I know I’m a bit behind on the times, but I just finished watching the fabulous documentary on hosts, The Great Happiness Space (2006). Watch it on Google Video. It looks at life for the hosts and clients of Rakkyo in Osaka. It is very well created, engaging, and grapples with all the right issues.
I’ve always had an interesting in subcultures, and I have been particularly curious about Japan’s mizu shobai (water trade; sex industry, for want of a better description), so this was right up my street. You cannot help but notice the number of clubs around Japan, each attempting to entice customers in with intriguing posters and pushy staff, and furthermore, you cannot help noticing the staff themselves as they slip into clubs on their way to work. People from all walks of life work there, and from my experience there are some nice personalities. For instance, in Nagoya, I got caught out in the rain with a friend and only one umbrella, lost somewhere near Sakae and in desperate need of a decent karaoke club. We asked the nearest group of people (the only ones brave or needy enough to be out in that weather) for directions and they not only helped us out, but also gave us their umbrella to boot. It’s a small gesture, but one that makes a big impression. As we stepped outside of the shelter, it was clear that we’d just been talking to fuzoku who were about to start work at the pink salon that was clearly advertised in the doorway. Anecdotal, I know, but characteristic of this documentary.
It portrays the wide range of relationships in the clubs, host-host and host-client, with all the minutiae in between. The most intriguing question about this arises midway through as we learn of the clients’ professions: fuzoku and hostesses. We are shown their feelings towards their hosts through one-on-one interviews, each with verisimilitude. They describe, and the head host Issei admits that that they are trapped in a vicious cycle. They go to the club because they want the veneer of support and acceptance that the hosts provide, but then they must continue to work in the mizu shobai so that they can have the money to attend these clubs. At the same time, they are becoming addicted to the feelings they have, while at the same time being polygamous both in terms of love and clubs.
The hosts don’t make it any easier. Issei claims that they don’t force the girls to buy the expensive champagne ($250 – $10,000 a bottle), but then we see footage of them doing just that. The incredible amounts of money that are spent are made to seem trivial as the girls recount their feelings for Issei. Are the hosts providing a support mechanism, a place that the girls can go and not be judged, but accepted? Or are they exploiting the girls, trapping them in a cycle of income and expenditure that can only be satisfied in the prostitution industries? The question is unresolved, but what becomes clear is that there are no real illusions on either side. The girls know what they’ll get, and the boys know what they’ll give, but each plays along to get their money’s worth.
We also see the terrible toll on the hosts. Stuck in a moral no-man’s-land, they drink and smoke themselves to death. Some get plagued by guilt as they extract more and more Yen from the girls. They suck it up and keep going, emerging each day into the blinding morning sun and heading to bed for a short sleep before they hit the streets and clean the club for another night of extravagant spending.