Let's shift gears yet again and talk about a documentary. I watched this on Netflix streaming the other night, so if you have an account, you can really easily check it out that way. Ever since then I've been unable to stop telling my friends about it, and I guess I have to count you all from now on. The Great Happiness Space is a doc about the real host club scene in Japan, and how it and the rest of the companionship/sex industry in Japan form this endless black hole of despair. You know that cliche image of someone falling down an endless void, their arms and legs sticking up in the air and flailing as they yell? That's how I felt this entire movie. "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA".
Rakkyo is the stage of of our vicious cycle, a big host club in Osaka where women pay by the hour for the false companionship of pretty boys with spiky hair. Even though all a host really does is flirt, karaoke and drink with his customers, partying as hard as five or so desperate women are willing to pay you for is still pretty tough work. Leader and club owner Issei guesstimates that he puts down ten bottles of champagne in a night, immediately noting "My liver's probably fucked". Anybody would be willing to risk their liver when they stand to pull down what these guys do, though: 10 grand a month is considered low, entry-level pay, and Issei makes 50.
It's okay to stop here and drop your jaw and say "Jesus fucking Christ", so I'm going to give you a minute.
The guys make all that money by how well they play the girls, naturally: the main trick is that they've built a small ceremony around opening and drinking a champagne bottle, the "champagne call." Order a bottle and the hosts crowd around, pour the booze into a giant novelty mug (you have to have a tissue under your chin while you drink from these things), and either customer or host-- more often host-- chugs it down while the rest of the guys dance around and give the customer the attention she's really paying for. The idea, of course, is to make the customer feel so special that she's miserable when the drink is done and the guys go to the next girl. That way she'll buy another, the hosts will come back, Girl B will be left alone, and so the process repeats itself. This sort of bidding war for love is how the hosts make the bulk of their money.
The hosts are transparently cynical and manipulative by trade, simultaneously presenting the fantasy their customers seek and making sure that it's very costly. One host has a crisis of conscience, and the guys have a group talk where they ultimately agree that while too much exploitation is an awful thing, a little exploitation is just what the girls came here for. It doesn't seem to honestly satisfy anybody's conscience, though. "I love you", for example, is tossed around cheaply by both host and customer, and neither party is really stupid enough to believe it. Ultimately, the hosts are numb, distant, and a little tragic themselves: the job has completely separated them from their own ability to honestly love. Plus they puke up their own blood sometimes from all the champagne.
There's this subplot with a new guy who's real clean-cut and straight-edged, and you can tell they want to show you his gradual decline, but nothing really happens to him short of getting his hair bleached.
The customers are about as interesting as the hosts, and a lot sadder: they have no apparent regrets about the kind of money they spend, and as I mentioned, they're deeply involved in the host club fantasy. Many of these women are so involved, in fact, that they've managed to go utterly beyond reason and earnestly believe they have a chance at a serious relationship with their chosen host.
When the first half of the movie details how much people are spending, you're asking yourself throughout "Where the hell does anybody get this kind of money?" Well, sometimes the answer is simpler than I imagine: they're in the sex business too. Only other hostesses, and more often prostitutes, can actually afford the ludicrous costs of high-end host club membership. And this is what's truly baffling about it: more than anybody, you'd figure these women would know better. I can't imagine, in their heart of hearts, that they don't. But they sure as hell don't show it! Night after night, these women put down thousands upon thousands of dollars towards their mutual dream of being with Issei forever and ever. The phrase "financial worship" is used more than once.
As miserable as the hosts probably ultimately are, they've at least got tons of money out of the deal (the money trail goes john to hooker to host, it seems), even if they don't seem to have any time to do anything with it. These women are sad on a whole other level. I want to say "like otaku," but it's really a lot worse than that. Otaku aren't so beaten down by the world that they feel like selling their bodies to buy $10,000 hugpillows is the only way they will ever achieve happiness.
The movie really slams home the point when you finally get to see Issei leave his number one customer and turn to the camera in total disgust, launching into a speech he can't say to her but clearly wants her to hear about how she's crazy and manipulative, and says things to the cameras that she wants him to hear. These two might only have ever been able to honestly communicate with each other through documentary film cameras. Maybe it was a good thing, after all.
Ultimately, the whole thing is a terrible cycle of despair, and the participants are all prisoners by choice. You can't feel sorry for the guys because of the cash and the exploitation, and you can't feel bad for the women because they really crave said exploitation. There's not much to say about it, except maybe to put your hands up in front of your face, reach towards God and ask why.