Review: The Great Happiness Space

The official cover, from the film’s website.

The Great Happiness Space is a 2006 documentary by UK filmmaker Jake Clennell. It’s not a new film, clearly, but I just saw it for the first time this week, so I’m going to go ahead and review it.

The film is about the host club culture in Japan, focusing on a single club (Club Rakkyo) in Osaka’s Shinsaibashi. There’s a Wikipedia article on host clubs, if you want to read up, but in short they’re places for women to spend ridiculous amounts of money so that attractive men will fawn over them while they all get very drunk. I’ve never been to a host club, so I don’t have any firsthand experience, but this is definitely an interesting foray into that world.

The film is composed of a combination of interviews, with hosts and girls who frequent the club, and footage of the club in action. Some of it feels staged, of course, though the number-one host Issei suggests that one of the girls is deliberately playing up her feelings for him on camera, as a sort of manipulative seduction. But in between those scenes that don’t come across as totally natural are interviews in which the hosts (particularly Issei) are clearly tired, worn down, and open, which makes up for it.

There’s actually quite a lot that’s genuine. Early on, the interviews are more polished, with a lot of stuff about selling dreams, but by the end Issei admits that a host’s job is really to lie to a woman and say that he loves her, when he doesn’t. And that’s okay because most of the women know it’s a lie and, moreover, go to multiple clubs and see multiple hosts. It’s all make-believe, no matter what Issei’s regulars say about being in love with him.

Ultimately, The Great Happiness Space is a deeply unhappy film about deeply unhappy people. Successful hosts make an outrageous amount of money (as much as 50,000 USD a month in some cases), but they’re destroying their bodies and their ability to form meaningful relationships in the process. Most of the women interviewed are nightlife workers (cabaret girls, hostesses, prostitutes) themselves and the hosts say that they’d like to have girlfriends, but have lost their ability to trust and be trustworthy.

If you’re interested in Japanese subculture, I recommend checking this film out. It’s a bit tiring, to be honest, but it will give you a good look into one of the darker sides of modern Japan. One that, interestingly, is not suffering in the recession. Is it the best documentary I’ve ever seen? No. But it is a good one that addresses a subject that doesn’t get very much attention.

B+

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