The Great Happiness Space - Tale of an Osaka Love Thief

Pathos-laden look at a strange Japanese social phenomenon.

Released in 2005, certified Not Yet Rated. Reviewed on 27 Aug 2006 by Scott Morris
The Great Happiness Space image

In moments where I'm sufficiently drunk to ignore the whole 'unimaginable suffering' thing, there's a part of me rejoices in the nuclear annihilation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, entirely on the basis that it seems to have been the catalyst for so much of the Japanese Weird Pop Culture explosion that I find so fascinating. And Godzilla. Godzilla is awesome.

This documentary from Jake Clennell seems follows the near-arbitrary thrown together naming scheme that Japanese enamoured of Western culture might pick, and yes Plastic Little, we are looking at you, focusing on the inner workings of the 'Stylish Cafe Rakkyo' and its hosts. The Rakkyo is a bar where women may go, select a host from a catalogue and have attention lavished upon them, in return for drinks bills ranging from 'very expensive' to 'truly astronomical'. Following most closely Osaka's most successful host and owner of the Rakkyo, Issei, this extraordinary documentary achieves a real insight into these people's lives and headspaces, and is never less than riveting.

Watching the 20-something lads hustling, or attempting to hustle ladies inside their club produces scenes more in line with expectations of Ayia Napa than of the famously reserved, polite Japanese, and indeed the 'normal' people look on the hosts with a certain amount of disdain. Even more against the grain comes from the relationships between the hosts and punters, which is more of emotional support than anything at all physical. Not being inhuman, this love-for-rent deal takes its toll on the hosts, with a drop out rate approaching 1 in 100, although those that do it well can walk off with a pretty penny. These pretty pennies may prove disastrous for the clientele, many of whom become dangerously obsessed, dreaming of marriage while haemorrhaging all of their earnings at the Rakkyo. Given that many of the ladies happen to be prostitutes, you'd think they might recognise some of what's going on.

The Great Happiness Space image

I've sat for a few days in front of a mockingly empty screen and its taunting, flashing cursor trying to arrange words in such a way as to say why this is such a fascinating film even for those not so suckered by Japanese culture, and it's been a frustrating, failure-filled time. It eventually occurred to me that this is probably because I'm not a sociologist, and don't have appropriate language for it. As such, I'm going to stop beating myself up about it and merely suggest that should you be fortunate enough to happen across this film, you give it the time of day it so desperately deserves.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Jake Clennell
Cast list:
Issei (Himself)
Kazuya (Himself)
Ryoma (Himself)