I had this whole opening to this piece where I made fun of the special lady friend for watching The Closer while we go to sleep while simultaniously acknowledging she has pretty good taste in documentaries, of which The Great Happiness Space is one. But then our internet crashed, as it so often does, and I lost it. You didn’t want to read that shit anyway, friends, and really, all nerds on the internet should be grateful we have special lady friends who do not, in fact, live in Canada.
So, The Great Happiness Space! This is about hookers in Japan. Male hookers/prostitutes called Hosts, although they’re more about providing comfort and love than anything. Kind of like if Inara from Firefly were a) a dude and b) living in twentieth century Japan. The film spends its time at one of the most popular host clubs in Osaka, a suburb of Tokyo and the epicenter of Tokyo’s sex industry. I know this not from the film, but from the deeply disturbing book In The Miso Soup, which you should read, as it’s Collateral II: In Japan With Serial Killers! (Seriously, check it out. It’s pretty good.) The owner-operator of this club, Rekkyo (sp), is a host named Issei, who is like the Wilt Chamberlin of Osaka. Seriously, the movie is mostly interviews with him intercut with his life at the club intercut with interviews with women who are in love with him.
That’s the most interesting part of the movie, the relationship between the Hosts and the people who visit Rekkyo. Being a regular at a host club isn’t cheap, while Issei and his colleagues can make upwards of ten thousand dollars a night, the women who pay for their company admit to paying thousands of dollars in a single night. Some of these women come by several times a week, which is why it’s both surprising and inevitable that many of the regulars are also sex workers in Osaka. Some are Hostesses, but others are outright prostitutes. And so these women that spend their days and nights pretending to care about their clients go to clubs to pay people to pretend to care about them, when both of them know it’s just a job.
When I started watching this film, I fully expected to hate Issei, to see him as a dude who was all about sex, and who doesn’t really care about these women. Guess what? He doesn’t care about his clients outside of his club, but that’s not a reason to hate him. By the end of the film, you’ve spent so much time with him, you understand where he’s coming from — he has to distance himself from his clients, and even that’s not enough for him to hold on to an identity outside of Rekkyo. Also, the dude admits to drinking like five bottles of champagne a night, even when he has to puke. I know he chose this, but damn.
And even then, we don’t really know who any of these people are, simply because they know they’re being watched, that they’re on camera. There’s a scene with a particularly persistent client who has told Issei to watch the videotape of an interview with her. She’s telling the interviewer what she wants him to hear, and I’m sure that applies to the Hosts as well. It’s all image, and even when the image does crack, as in a scene near the end where a younger Host breaks down in describing his relationship to his clients, you’re left wondering what the word love really means. Or if it means different things to different people. After all, the subtitle of the movie is Tales of an Osaka Love Thief.
I dug it. I’m still thinking about it. Check it out.