Issei and the title screen
“My dream is… to marry Issei.” — The girl in a white dress, a frequent customer of host clubs
Tonight, I watched a fascinating documentary about male hosts and the women who seek these men’s services. I provide excerpts as well as scant commentary in hopes that others will be interested in watching the documentary for themselves.
Somewhere in the fashionable Minami district of Osaka sits Cafe Rakkyo and its wall of beautiful male hosts.
Pouty men, funny men, cool men — whatever your heart desires for fifty dollars an hour. Young ladies show up to Rakkyo every night and willingly hand their hard-earned cash over to these male hosts, but why?
“I say it’s a business of selling dreams to people. In other words, we have fake love relationships. The girls fall in love.” — Issei, a popular male host
* * *
“We provide good advice that will be helpful for her life. One year after girls start seeing me, they grow up to be much better women and human beings than before.” — Another male host
For their money, the girls get company. Someone to tell them how pretty they are. Someone to listen to these girls’ troubles and make them smile. Someone to advise or scold the young girls. Someone to treat them like princesses.
The girl in a white dress
“My life without Issei is unimaginable right now. When I met Issei, I already had a fiance. I had promised to marry him. But I fell in love with Issei so I broke up with my boyfriend.” — Girl in a white dress
Young girls will inevitably fall in love with the male hosts, and the male hosts know this. The young girls vie for the male hosts’ attention the only way they know how: spending money. Every night, the young girls buy bottles after bottles of expensive champagne in direct competition with each other. The girl who spends the most money gets the most attention.
“Some days, I spend $200 or $300 [on champagne], other days, I spend $3,000.” — Girl in a white dress
* * *
“In a day, there are times when I drink ten [bottles of champagne]. I drink, I throw up. I drink, I throw up. And I keep repeating. That’s how I work. I think my liver is fucked. I see guys throwing up blood.” — Issei
For the male hosts, they have to maintain the dream and if that dream ends, the young girls will no longer need the male hosts’ services. The men don’t intend for the girls to wake up anytime soon. At some point, the young girls will tire of the game. They will start to want something more than the casual flirting every night at Rakkyo — something substantial. On the other hand, the male hosts will do everything in their power to string the girls along.
Girl in a white dress: “So do you fall in love with your clients?”
Issei: “I guess I do. It would be weird if I didn’t. There’s nowhere else for me to meet girls other than this club. This is the only place I meet girls. This is the only place I can fall in love, right? All my ex-girlfriends were customers. There’s no other way.”
Girl in a white dress: “How does a relationship develop?”
Issei: “I don’t know. Just a feeling. But you have to be a long term customer. That’s my experience.”
Girl in a white dress: “Actually….”
Issei: “So you’re in a pretty good spot. At least, in my eyes.”
* * *
“We have to keep them dreaming so when we have to lie, we lie. If I were honest, many girls would hate me. If I tell them I have no intentions of dating or marrying them, it would turn them off. Girls come here hoping they have a chance with me. I could never say to their face, ‘You’re not my type.’ That would kill their dreams. To cater to their desires is what it means to be a professional host.” — Issei
Why do young girls seek the company of men who knowingly manipulate their feelings for money? Why can’t they fulfill their emotional needs elsewhere? One of the patrons estimate that seventy to eighty percent of a male host’s earnings come from call girls, female hosts, or prostitutes.
A female prostitute
“I come to Rakkyo to relieve stress. (long pause) Well, customers are really persistent and that stresses me out.” — A female prostitute
* * *
“After work, I feel so bad. And I regret having sold my body again. But when I get paid, I think I can get anything I want. I can buy anything. But… I think really hard about how to spend the money, and I think I really want to smile. And smiling is good. So I decide to take the money to Rakkyo.” — Another female prostitute
* * *
“…my job isn’t something I can tell people about… so when [the host and I] talk about work, we can tell each other everything. And [the male hosts] don’t look down on what we do. The general public looks down on us. Even though the general public looks down on us… the hosts don’t look down on us.” — Girl in a white dress
A relationship with male hosts is simple and clean. It contains none of the drawbacks of a typical relationship. There’s no pressure to marry, to have sex, or to bear children. There is no drama at Cafe Rakkyo — no need to ever quarrel or fight. Most importantly, as long as the money continues to flow, the male hosts won’t judge… at least to the young girl’s face.
Relationships have always been difficult to maintain. Many feel that relationships are even more difficult to manage in our modern society. For many, then, buying love must feel like an easy solution. Even if this means young girls will have to sell their own bodies.
The male hosts know that their customers often resort to prostitution to afford such a lavish lifestyle. For many, they feel guilty, so guilty that a few will quit such a well-paying job. For others, however, that guilt is buried deep down.
“As long as she’s happy, why not let her pay? … It’s okay to develop some feelings for them. But remember, she’s coming here to relieve stress and get healed by you. So you’re not doing anything wrong, right? …you’re wrong for feeling guilty.” — Issei to another male host
A male host prepares himself for a long night
When a male host spends his entire night compartmentalizing love and meting it out piece by piece for fifty dollars an hour, what do confessions even mean to him anymore? When a girl pours her heart out to a male host, will her words even resonate? Perhaps due to the fact that the male hosts spend hours upon hours every night lying to their customers, they are wary of their customers’ true intentions.
“See, [the girl in a white dress is] a freak. I didn’t want her to be in the [documentary]. Anyone but her. Too freaky, don’t you think? She’s strange compared to other girls who come to the club. It’s all lip service, she thinks it’ll bring us closer when I watch the [documentary]. She’s just saying what she wants me to hear. She knows her words will get to me when I watch the [documentary]. I really can’t stand that type of girl. She’s really bizarre, that girl. Right? She’s very aware and manipulative. She’s pretty intelligent. In a weird way.” — Issei
* * *
Girl in a white dress: “All I want is to keep supporting [Issei].”
Interviewer: “Can you die for Issei?”
Girl in a white dress: “I can die.”
* * *
“You see? I knew she’d talk like that.” — Issei, when told that the girl in a white dress would die for him
At the end of the night, when dawn has arrived, the male hosts retire to their apartments. They confess that they too want to marry one day — to find that one girl they can truly love. After all, being a male host can be lonely; there are no true connections being established at Cafe Rakkyo. But when the word ‘love’ is being uttered every single night — every single hour even — it starts to lose its meaning. Can the male hosts even recognize love when they see it?
“I just can’t trust people.” — Issei
As for the young girls, are they really in love with the male hosts? Or is it just easier to call it love? Spending a grand or two every night at Cafe Rakkyo can be hard to swallow the following morning, but everything’s easier when when we call it love. When love is involved, these dollars signify nothing more than a sacrifice. After all, isn’t there’s something poetic about sacrificing oneself for love, even if that sacrifice requires selling one’s own body.
A young girl, also a prostitute, confides in her male host about the difficulties of her job
“Everyone’s searching for their own [happiness] space. They want to feel important.” — A female prostitute
I remember this being mentioned some time ago.
So is it that the girls turn to prostitution to support their host habit, or that they’re already prostitutes who end up spending their money on hosts?
The documentary never answers this question (you rarely hear anyone but the male hosts and the girls). The revelation that these girls are prostitutes don’t come until a third of the way into the documentary, but I suspect that this is more for impact than anything else. Maybe there is no right answer. Maybe some girls resort go to male hosts to deal with the stress of prostitution, while others resort to prostitution to fuel their addiction to these male hosts.
I think it’s both, but more the latter. I’ve also heard that the opposite situation where hosts regularly make use of hostess bars and cabaret clubs for stress relief is also common, so it’s kind of a viscious circle…
I saw this years ago (yeesh, at least 4-5? I’m getting old). It’s interesting and well-done, and if you’re on the fence about whether it’s worth your time here’s another recommendation.
I think it came out in 2006 so five years sounds about right.
Yeah, it made a big impression so I remember when + where I saw it, just surprising how far away that was.
It’s a great documentary and it’s interesting what people take from it; its subject matter touches rather directly on some fairly fundamental aspects of the human experience, which in turn means people react to it in a very wide variety of ways.
When I’ve recommended it I’ve tried to give as little concrete info as possible, mainly to avoid pushing people into any specific interpretational outlook. That said: most of what I took from it was the gaps between self-image (identity), actual behavior, and self-narrative (what people said about the things they did).
The hosts and their regular customers both seem to have larger-than-normal gaps between those 3, in ways that probably aren’t all that uncommon but that wouldn’t be easily visible without something like the host club to make them so explicit.
Anyways: it’s a documentary well worth watching and gives a lot of food for thought.
It would have been hard to write a post without offering an interpretation as 1) people wouldn’t know why they should watch and 2) a post would be rather short without at least a single interpretation. Plus, if they didn’t watch it, they could get something out of the interpretation.
Wait, so host clubs really exist? I thought they were made up. I guess I don”t know much about Japan. Is this Documentary in the US?
You can buy it in the US, if that’s what you mean.
Thank you for sharing this very interesting documentary. So often are host clubs romantised in manga and anime, that seeing all this makes me more aware of the huge differences between reality and the animanga world. Somehow, even if a manga tries to include all the nitty-gritty details, it can’t emulate the raw-ness of reality. Blah what am I babbling about – just thanks for this.
I am dying to know what’s become of Issei.
I haven’t heard of any follow-ups to the documentary. I wouldn’t mind finding out what has happened to the guy either.
He’s actually still hosting (video proof on YouTube). I even e-mailed the guy on a whim and was absolutely blown away when I got a response. So yeah…he’s still alive and kicking!
That’s interesting. Well, if he can still flaunt it, the job makes good money. Or maybe he enjoys the personal attention more than he lets on.
I think it’s a bit of both. That, and the fact that at his age (mid-30’s, if I recall correctly) it has to be difficult to break into any other line of work. I’m not sure how impressive “host” looks on a resume, and I’m sure he’s too used to the quick, relatively easy money to settle into a conventional office job. I’d LOVE to see a Great Happiness Space follow-up, though, to see how many of these guys are still hosting, and which ones have left to settle into more standard lives and relationships.
I would love to find out what’s happened to them as well. Learning about host clubs is really fascinating but also very sad. Has anyone watched “Shinjuku Boys”? That’s a great documentary as well!
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