So there’s this documentary called The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief. And it is fascinating.
The city of Osaka, Japan has something called “host clubs.” Their clients are rich women who drop hundreds or thousands of dollars a night. In return, they get drinks, music, and the attention of a “host,” a club employee who will flirt with them and make them feel special for an hour or two. Yes, there’s sex, but not as often as you might think. For these women, it seems to be about the emotional connection.
(“Hostess clubs” also exist, and are presumably more popular, but the film doesn’t talk about them.)
The film centers on Issei, the most sought-after host in Osaka. He takes home thirty to fifty thousand dollars a month. What’s his secret?
Among other things, he’s a very good liar.
Although his persona is utterly fake, his clients are infatuated with him. They say they love him. Some even want to marry him. And surprisingly, they believe they have a shot.
That’s because Issei tells them exactly what they want to hear, stringing them along, pretending to each woman that he has special feelings for her alone. As these ersatz bonds develop, the women come back, buying more drinks and more time, wooing their favorite host with regular infusions of cash.
Many of the patrons are prostitutes themselves. They see host clubs as a safe place to go, where the men won’t look down on them for the work they do. Thus the cycle completes, and you have human beings whose entire lives consists of fake intimacy: selling sex on the job, and buying a facade of affection in their off hours.
Of course, these relationships are deeply unhealthy for all involved. But they show us the strength of the human need to connect, the need to feel accepted and understood.
The movie’s on Netflix. Watch it if you get a chance.