THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Great Happiness Space (**)

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief
Directed by Jake Clennell, USA, 2006
Official site: www.thegreathappinessspace.com

Knowing my predilection for all things Japanese, my friend recommended this documentary about Japanese "host boys" - good-looking young men (sometimes known as "flower boys" because they're flora-pretty with an androgynous, long-haired look akin to that of a rock star) who are paid to entertain women in exclusive nightclubs. She figured I'd like it because it was about the Japanese sex trade and that my half-Japanese girlfriend would dig it because it was specifically about the less well-known male side of that trade. Unfortunately, she was wrong. This doc was way too long, the narrative didn't progress at all, and we doubted the veracity of the film - i.e., were people just playing to the camera or were we really getting a fly-on-the-wall perspective of something approaching truth?

Part of the problem is that first-time documentary director Jake Clennell focuses almost exclusively on one male character - Issei, top host boy at Osaka's Café Rakkyo - and the group of women who adore him. The women are all sex industry workers (either "host girls," strippers, or "soap land" masseusses) who feel they can only talk about their trade or have a relationship with someone also in the trade or similarly "damaged goods" in the eyes of society. But Issei is egotistical and we never move beyond his superficial "Look at me, I'm wonderful" explanations of his success. And the girls, well, they're not middle-aged Patricia Neal types buying a young George Peppard boy-toy a la Breakfast At Tiffany's. They're young and fairly attractive; one wonders why, since men pay to have sex with them, that they can't simply find young, attractive guys to date. (Here's a hint, ladies: musicians. Since Issei and his ilk look just like J-rock pop stars, why not join the groupie gravy train? It's a well-established fact that pop musicians will fuck anything that moves, plus you might actually get in free to shows instead of having to pay $200 an hour to sit with Issei and sip $500 bottles of champagne in the VIP booth at Cafe Rakkyo.)

But instead, we get a tedious, seemingly endless loop of the women talking about how wonderful Issei is. For well over 90 minutes. And the grand finale? A predictable end-of-the-night scene of the exhausted man-whores stumbling out of the club and counting their money. Hardly a Hard Day's Night finish. And since Issei and his fellow hosts look so much like rock stars, I would have liked to have seen the director explore that aspect - talk about the "flower boy" pop star phenomenon, learn what pop stars the girls liked, etc. As it is, this movie is a one-trick pony, without a whole lot of ideas or filmmaking style. I can't believe it won the "Best Documentary Feature" at the 2006 Edinburgh International Film Festival. There must have been a football derby that day between Celtic and Rangers and all the judges must have been supremely pissed after the game.

To best understand host bars and their employees and clientele, check out Mikio Naruse's When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Onna ga kaiddan agaru toki, 1960). It may be a fictitious narrative film, but Fiction is often the lie that tells the truth. It certainly rings truer than an allegedly "real" film like The Great Happiness Space.

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