Saturday, March 16, 2013

Day Seventy-five - The Great Happiness Space, or "The Illusion of Love... Capitalized."

In the West, we like to think prostitution is a dirty job, something the lowest of the low would do. Even as we acknowledge that there are men and women out there who charge so highly that only the rich and powerful could afford their services, we still see them as a second-class citizenry.

We collectively watch docudramas like Mustang Ranch or Cat House out of morbid curiosity and sometimes just plain old lust.

In Japan, though, they handle the red light district with an even odder paradox than ours... and we find a prime example of it in flashy Osaka.

The first thing you should know, "adult entertainment" in Japan is separated into highly regimented categories. There's the subject of today's blog, The Great Happiness Space, which explores the Rakkyo Cafe, a host bar... and host and hostess bars are where the workers sell the illusion of connection. From there it can go to strip clubs, then soaplands (which often sell "skinship" to the level of hand and blowjobs, but not actual penetrative sex), and on up to full on prostitution.

It's odd the way things are defined for the purposes of legality and taxation, but it is the system that both the country and the culture has come up with.

Instead of selling sex, host and hostess bars sell the illusion of love and happiness, that someone beautiful wants to spend time with you and get to know you.

For the first part of the documentary, we are shown just that... the party animal side of the business where everyone is all smiles and laughter, where drinks run free and money falls from the sky. It will leave you aghast just how much these women spend on the top sellers and just how much these twenty-something boys earn in a single day.

But that's when the tone shifts.

You start to read lines (because it's subtitled, fair warning) about both the hosts and their women customers that pull that nagging itch you've had from the start of the documentary into a full blown ache and discomfort. Whether it's Issei (the club's owner and it's top earner) talking about how much alcohol he drinks then subsequently throws up, or his employees who vomit blood... the everyday party lifestyle takes a definite physical toll.

Emotionally, they're broken as well, as the doc explicitly reveals (with startling honesty from the hosts) just how much they lie and manipulate to keep the party going and the money flowing.

But, the doc also sheds a small spotlight on the women as well, their manipulations as well as their pain. See, it seems the grand majority of the customer base for Issei and his club are, themselves, adult workers... with those who put down the most money, spending upwards of a hundred thousand yen ($1000) a night, sometimes reaching heights like five MILLION yen ($50k) in a single evening, being Fuzoku... or, prostitues... who work in Osaka's red light district, selling their bodies and spending the grand majority of their take at Issei's bar.

All for the illusion of happiness.

It's hard not to be cynical when watching this documentary. With the prejudice that we have, as a society, for sex workers, I can definitely see why filmmaker Jake Clennell waited until the second act to reveal the occupations of the customers. If he'd done it in the establishing act, I think a lot of people would've switched off and just sat there in judgement. In a couple of cases, I think it's unavoidable, particularly with one customer of Issei's who makes you hate both her AND Issei, himself, but there are several of the women (as well as several of the hosts, usually the middle and lower ranked ones) that you cannot help but feel empathy for.

Their lives are built up on so much lies and degradation... you just want them to earn what they can and tuck it all away, but you know that probably won't happen.

In the end, it's all poisonous. The women waste millions of yen trying to find a fake happiness and the men become jaded and mercenary, stringing them along. It's sad on so many different levels, but it exists... and it is how a certain segment of their society both makes a living and copes with their lifestyles. 

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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