Synopsis: “The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief,” introduces an extraordinary hidden world of Japanese nightlife in Osaka’s Cafe Rakkyo. The denizens of this glamorous demi-monde, dedicated to partying till they drop, are captured by first time documentary producer/director, Jake Clennell with candid and poignant insight. Presided over by the charismatic, enigmatic Issei, the number one “host boy” in town, the club offers a new twist on the ancient geisha tradition. Glamorous host boys make beautiful young women laugh, feel good about their lives — and pay handsomely for their pleasure. In this secret, outcast society of wealthy young people, money seems to mean easy gratification. But all these stylish players have to pay for their pleasures, and they can cost more than money.
eyelights: its candid look behind the scenes.
eyesores: the questionable honesty of its participants.
“We sell dreams – that’s our job.”
When one thinks of prostitution, the first image that immediately comes to mind is a scantily-dressed young woman on a street corner. One imagines her getting into a car and driving off with her date for any sort of risky business. What one usually doesn’t imagine are young men working out of a club, attracting female clientele for drinks and laughs.
And yet, as 2006’s ‘The Great Happiness Space’ demonstrates, there is a market for exactly that. In the Minami half of Osaka, Japan, there are over 100 “host clubs”, which are basically a place where women can pay for the company of young men for an evening. It usually consists of bantering, drinking, and other light-hearted activities.
What they are selling is the illusion of an amourous relationship.
At Stylish Cafe Rakkyo, the central focus of this documentary, there are 20 employees, all vying for the attentions (and cold hard cash) of their female clients. Issei, the manager and lead host, is extremely popular with these women and can usually earns the equivalent of 50000$ a month (the average host will make a minimum of 10K, but rarely 50K).
Issei is very well respected by his peers. It is said that he intuitively knows how to read women and give them exactly what they need. This means that he has to affect different personalities depending on the clients and their moods, and he is able to play them well enough that he has stringed along some of his clients for years. After all, return business is how they survive.
In fact, although some girls go there for sex, the men at Rakkyo try to stretch things out as much as possible so that the girls continue to have a reason to go to the club – otherwise they lose interest. Having said that, Issei boasts that he used to have sex 365 days a year. I wasn’t sure if what was truth and what were lies, because you can’t have both.
I wondered if he calculated his interviews to give a certain image, or if he even knew when he was telling the truth anymore. At one point, he explains how mixed up his feelings can get, how they have to pretend so much that he starts to wonder who he is. These men create such perfect illusions that the girls truly believe them and they themselves get confused.
And yet Issei says that, for these women, they’re merely products that come à la carte: there’s the funny ones, the cool ones, …etc. Like their female counterparts in other clubs, the hosts try to make themselves desirable, morphing to fill the needs of their clients. It was strange to see them pick men out of a binder, or bartering for certain hosts.
It’s an extremely demanding job: a few of them stand outside the club and hound women as they pass by, trying to goad them into coming in. They’re real hustlers, getting into women’s faces. Inside, there’s lots of drinking (Issei has to down full bottles on a regular basis and says his liver is likely destroyed) until the wee hours of the morning, while pretending to be sober.
At the end of the night, many them are passed out or barely conscious.
What’s terrific about ‘The Great Happiness Space’ is that, not only are there tons of interviews with Issei and the other hosts, but there are also lots of testimonials from their regulars. They are deeply in love with Issei, with most of them hoping to hook him into a real relationship someday. He explains that he has to lie to them in order to get their hopes up and return business.
The costs for these women regularly runs in the thousands each time, particularly because of the high mark-up of the club’s “champagne” bottles. And they go to more than one club, too. These women can afford it because 70-80% of them are call girls themselves, making a fortune by day and blowing it by night. The rest of the clientèle are apparently rich wives.
Issei thinks that his client get into prostitution precisely to be able afford these costs, to be with them. He claims that he finds it heavy and that he struggles with the morality of it, but that he can’t afford to think about it because that’s how they make money. As he and employees state, the moment that emotions come into play, the moment they empathize, they’re doomed.
I didn’t know what to make of the emotional games being played in ‘The Great Happiness Space’. On the one hand, I despise dishonesty and hypocrisy so I can’t stand that these men lie their way into the hearts of these women for money. Having said this, the women also trick themselves into believing the lies because they need the illusion to satisfy a deeper need.
There is much talk of healing throughout the documentary, from both the hosts and clients, where they suggest that the attentions of these men can soothe and repair some inner wounds. Although there may be some merit to that argument, I wonder how much of it is mere justification. Is this something that they tell themselves and others to make it acceptable?
Because, in the end, if one is lonely or insecure and needs the affection of another person to help heal their wounds (which is perfectly reasonable), wouldn’t the fact that it’s all fake and that it will eventually become all-too-apparent only serve to add to this hurt – especially since the clients end up pining for a man that they will never actually get.
I don’t know how positive it is in the end. Is it immoral? Since both parties are involved in the illusion, not quite. This is no less immoral than the Girlfriend Experience, where it’s clear from the start that the client is paying for a temporary illusion. The only difference is that with the GFE, there is usually sex involved, and it’s an underground business.
I found ‘The Great Happiness Space’ really fascinating to watch. It made me wonder about the various perspectives on prostitution, its place in our society, the power of illusion and our need for love, to feel connected to another person at all costs. It also made me wonder about the value of intimacy in our lives when it can become a commodity like any other.
“To a certain extent, money can buy love.”, Issei says.
Watching ‘The Great Happiness Space’ left me with one overarching question: What is the true price that its participants have to pay in the end?
Date of viewing: July 20, 2014