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In a thriller/love story set amid Japan's volcanic economy and political intrigues, Peter Saxon, an American lawyer, fights to keep a secret, multibillion dollar deal--and himself--alive in a country haunted by the past
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Richard Setlowe is a former vice president of creative affairs for ABC Pictures.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter OneA Very Dangerous Game
"What the hell happened to Okamatsu?"
Ozu looks startled. "Excuse me, please. I do not understand."
The Mitsubishi limousine eases away from the portico of the Imperial Hotel and briefly skirts the tree-lined moat of the Imperial Palace itself, then yaws into the skyscraping stone canyons of the Marunouchi financial district.
"Matami Okamatsu at MITI. In charge of communications and electronics. Had an appointment with him. But I can't get through to him. I don't know if it's a language problem or what, but his office tells me he's no longer there. That someone else will assist me. And then they hang up."
"Oh yes, please, someone at MITI will contact you."
"What happened to Okamatsu?"
"He is no longer there, I think."
This surprises me. Japanese bureaucrats are always there, for life. "I just talked to him a week ago. And confirmed our meeting."
"It is his health, I think."
At my first mention of Okamatsu and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Hara had glanced up but now stares out the window, as if the conversation is of absolutely no interest. But there's a tense silence, not comfortable at all.
The glaring neon kaleidoscope of totally incomprehensible calligraphy that surrounds the limo now, at night, feels vaguely threatening, buzzing with a sharp electric hum, the high-tech hieroglyphics of an alien culture.
After the cordial greetings and bowing at the hotel, we ride in uneasy silence for a while. The Japanese, I had been briefed, are very comfortable with silence in business negotiations. But I'm not.
Then Hara says something in Japanese. Ozu translates, "Today's talks went well, I think, Mr. Saxon?"
I turn to Hara, who sits next to me. "I think we understand each other's positions better, Kenji."
"It was a productive reconnaissance flight for you?" Ozu asks without being cued in Japanese by Hara. The translator sits strapped into the jump seat facing me, a small man with close-cropped hair and round rimless glasses, but I can't read his expression in the dark cab. Ozu is a second-level executive whose English is fluent but schoolbook. "Reconnaissance flight" is an odd but telling phrase.
"It was informative, not productive." The fact that they know so much about me personally puts me on edge as much as Ozu's casual arrogance about his knowledge.
He translates, and the question comes back, "Why not productive?"
I smile at Hara. "Kenji, you are not taking the merger proposal seriously. You think it's a ploy, a maneuver to get a higher price. You still believe we are going to sell you the company, the studio, except, of course, the TV stations. We're not. We're here to buy, not sell. Our plan is quite serious."
The limousine stops at a traffic light. Crowds pour across the intersection from four directions, and Japanese faces stare into the dark-tinted windows of the limo, squinting to discover whatever tycoon, politician, or pop star is inside. A girl in her twenties, black feathers of hair framing a delicately lovely face, smiles hesitantly into the windows, seemingly looking right at me, and that face momentarily mesmerizes me. It strums a haunting, poignant cord that all but draws me out of the limo into the street.
"Universal sold. Columbia sold," Ozu asserts, yanking me back to the present.
The Japanese are tap-dancing. There is no way Kuribayashi Electric can finance a buyout. The company is sound, but the collapse of the Asian market has dragged down their sales and income, and their stock is at an historic low, along with the rest of Tokyo's Nikkei index. The Japanese banks are shuffling a trillion dollars in bad debts on the books. But still Hara and Ozu tap-dance, as if they had secret billions to slap on the table.
And I buck-and-wing along with them because to state the truth will offend the Japanese. And I am here to make history.
"Universal was owned and sold by a seventy-seven-year-old agent who wanted to cash in and make the biggest deal of his lifetime for a grand finale," I say. "Six-point-six billion. And he's regretted it every day since. Even after Matsushita bailed out.
"Columbia," I continue, "that was owned and sold by Coca-Cola, a very old and conservative company from our deep South. The good old boys in Atlanta thought they knew all about show business because they spent six hundred million a year on TV commercials with rock stars to sell Coke. But they didn't know dreck from drama."
Ozu looks bewildered. "Dreck?"
"Shit," I translate. "They didn't know shit about the movie business. Their MBAs were projecting steady growth and profit curves and suddenly found themselves on a roller coaster coming round a curve and staring straight down into a fiscal black hole."
"Oh yes," Ozu nods and launches into a long explanation in Japanese.
Hara listens with head cocked, eyes darting from Ozu to me. He repeats the words "roller coaster," but the 1s fade to "ro-wah coastah."
"Do you know what a roller coaster is?"
"Oh yes," Ozu nods. "We have this amusement at Disneyland. Mr. Hara's wife and children like it very much."
I wonder just how hair-raising the roller coaster at the Tokyo Magic Kingdom is. "Coca-Cola wanted off the wild ride. They were ecstatic to sell to Sony for three-point-four billion.
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