the great happiness space: tales of an osaka love thief
I watched this documentary earlier this year and was blown away. The Great Happiness Space: Tales of an Osaka Love Thief, directed by Jake Clenell, is a heartbreaking look at the emotionally fraught world of Japanese host clubs.
Host clubs are sort of a modern reincarnation of the geisha tradition, with reversed gender roles. Women go to a club and pick a host out of a catalogue (priced according to demand),. The host then provides the “boyfriend experience”: flirting, giving advice, and making each woman feel special, even though she is often overtly competing with several other women for his attention.
The many contradictions in this relationship, and the necessary suspension of disbelief, create high emotional stakes. Once a woman picks a host, she can never be “with” another host at the same club. She does everything she can—paying for a private room, buying absurdly expensive bottles of champagne—to get the host to spend more time with her, in the hope of eventually becoming his real girlfriend. The hosts do their best to string the women along and keep them spending.
Surprisingly, many of the clients at the host club are prostitutes. Because of the social stigma attached to their profession, it is difficult for them to find real relationships and emotional intimacy. They are accepted by the hosts, partly because they are among the few women who can afford the club’s expensive rates (spending up to $10,000 in one night), and partly, I think, because they occupy similar roles in society. The hosts, meanwhile, have to come to terms with the fact that at least some of the women prostitute themselves so that they can continue spending time at the host club.
Heartbreakingly, one of the girls says, “I sell my body to customers. I think really hard about how to spend the money. And I think I really want to smile…And if I quit, I can’t come to [the host club].”
The host club tries to create the illusion of a glamorous, wealthy world, but in fact all the participants live on the fringes of society; hosts are looked down on in Japan. And although it seems like a constant party at the club, the hosts suffer physical as well as mental stress, sometimes drinking up to ten bottles of champagne per night in order to earn more commission.
It’s a really fascinating and poignant documentary, a reflection on what people want from relationships and how far they will go to preserve the illusion of love. And even though the subject matter could be seen as salacious, the documentary takes a candid but nonjudgmental and non-sensationalistic approach. For more information, check out the movie website and the screencaps below. UPDATE: You can watch the whole movie online here.