The Great Happiness Space: Tale Of An Osaka Love Thief
Jake Clennell / USA / 2006
The cutting irony of The Great Happiness Space: Tales of an Osaka Love Thief is only revealed halfway through this insightful and thoroughly sad documentary about the Japanese hosting business. It is a revelation that opens up unanswered recrimination between host and client, asking the question - who is actually exploiting who in the relationship.
As part of the multi-faceted sex industry in Japan, hosting is where an individual will pay for someone else’s company typically in a night club. Describing hosting as part of the sex industry is somewhat misleading as the majority of the ‘action’ is convivially social, talking and drinking and so forth. As is uncovered later on, although sex occasionally occurs it has little to do with the business of hosting despite the negative connotations.
Jack Clennell’s documentary appears to expose Club Rakkyo, Osaka’s premier host club for women seeking male company, for what it might be: a trap for emotionally bereft women. The hosts are all preening tousle-haired Japanese guys of the type who are always immaculately groomed, bedecked in the latest fashions.
The junior ones take it in turns on the streets outside the club hustling for business, by persuading women to come inside. Downstairs in the club each client, on her first visit, chooses a host from a glossy catalogue, which never changes. If they want someone else they have to go elsewhere. The hosts then keep the clientele entertained in a variety of ways all centred upon keeping the overpriced champagne flowing. Some hosts are simply beautiful, some are experts at conversations, others are comedians and so on.
Broken phrases from the film’s title provide some clues as to what’s going on here: "Great Happiness Space" and "Love Thief". As Club Rakkyo’s gleeful chief host and owner Issei admits, his club is all about holding its emotionally retarded clients in stasis, the happiness space, a place where they will visit night after night enjoying the company of the hosts whilst being cajoled into spending massive amounts of yen on overpriced champagne. Or as Issei puts it "it’s about women worshipping me financially".
The worst instances of this are when the hosts encourage competition between the women for their attention by ordering bottles of champagne to be ritually ‘downed’ at speed. As the Issei puts it "my liver is fucked". Drinking ten bottles of bubbly in a single evening may be good for business but little else.
As the gradual realisation dawns of the costs of attending the club on a regular basis, and many of the women interviewed or seen in the film are regulars, the question eventually occurs concerning exactly who can actually afford to visit such a club: workers in the sex industry. Prostitutes are hiring whores to give themselves some sort of emotional stability whilst they themselves are not working! Again the hosts rarely sleep with their clients. As they themselves admit the art of the business is all about maintaining the relationship for as long as possible at the club, to maximise those drinks sales. Sleeping with a client would disrupt this and so is therefore bad for business.
Where the documentary really starts to heat up is when the film finally starts asking who exactly the victims are. A vicious web of emotional complicity is unearthed which is shocking. The hosts maintain that their job is a deception, providing dreams for lonely women. The drop-out rate amongst hosts is astronomical as most hosts only last a few weeks. The clients, who sell sex themselves in various forms, are well aware that the hosts are manipulating them yet they still harbour fantasises of pinning their host down between buying drinks, of being the one. Despite this though, they freely admit to visiting several host clubs.
Answers are not forthcoming but it is telling how the hosts, late in the documentary, start to describe what they really think about some of their regular clients. They semi-revile them, or even hate them, resenting having to spend time indulging these women, resorting to confessing that they must be manipulative because they visit other clubs. In effect they hate being forced to truly work for their money, dismissing clients who are a match for their patience as abnormal.
Exactly who is exploiting who is the film’s unresolved dilemma and lingering success.