June 22, 2011 \ Geoff Birmingham
The Great Happiness Space: A documentary that’s anything but happy

Documentary about Japanese host boys The Great Happiness Space is a documentary that is full of sad people.  It focuses on a Japanese host club, Cafe Rakkyo in Osaka, in which young, stressed-out and lonely women pay “host boys” to entertain them and escape from life.

At first, this seems just a little pathetic and nothing more – why not spend your time looking for true love rather than paying to be entertained?  But before long we realize that it goes beyond just pathetic.  The women gush over the Rakkyo’s owner, Issei, and claim they want to marry him, but then in the same breath explain how none of the host boys can be trusted.

The host boys very candidly describe how their job is to create a dream land for their clients, pretending to like them, pretending to counsel them, and pretending to care.  In one notable scene, one of Issei’s clients (who has paid more to have a private room with him, rather than sharing him with other clients), asks him whether he feels their “relationship” should continue or not.

Masterfully, he dodges this question.  He then manages to escort her out the door, gets her in a taxi, pulls out a cigarette and then turns to the camera: “She’s my craziest client.  I can’t stand her.”  But he still has a client.  And one who will continue to pay thousands of dollars in the hopes of winning his heart.

The director also cleverly withholds a key piece of information as we mull this over.  Eventually, we learn that most of the women who patronize the host clubs are sex workers.  In other words, women who don’t feel like they have many options in life, whether it’s in their careers or in love.

Ultimately, people cannot be faulted for being lonely and unhappy.  Nor they can be faulted for deluding themselves.  The morality, however, of encouraging lonely, marginalized women to buy more expensive champagne in order to win your attention can be questioned.  Though perhaps, as co-dependents who are mutually aware of the game each is playing, neither the host boys nor their female counterparts deserve our criticism.  Just our pity.