Paying Through the Nose For Male Companionship
Wednesday, August 8, 2007 Posted: 07:50 AM JST
New York based Jake Clennell has created a great documentary about host clubs in Osaka (click on the link to watch the trailer at Dailymotion.com).
This is Clennell's directorial debut, but his credits as a director of photography are impeccable. Clennel has shot hostage negotiations in Iraq, President Clinton on the campaign trail and music superstar Bob Dylan. He became interested in Osaka's night life while shooting "Kokoyakyu", a documentary about Japanese high school baseball. The Great Happiness Space - Tale of an Osaka Love Thief has won the Best Feature Documentary Award at the Edinburgh IFF 2006.
Clennell explains how he became intrigued with Japanese host clubs: "... after I had been to a few clubs I became very struck by just how charming these people were, it was always very nice to sit down and have a drink with them. There is a raw charisma that through a sort of natural selection tends to be present in a successful host."
"The hosts experience," he continues, "reminded me of my experience when working with astronauts at N.A.S.A. They were a special and talented group of people who could be counted on to handle intense, prolonged, interpersonal contact and be friendly and cool despite the stress and being in a noisy space ship. Which is a little like being in a host club where the hosts only make money if they can maintain their charm and be engaging while selling champagne at $500 a bottle."
As Clennell learned more and more about the host scene, he realized that he wanted to document the experience. "As the scene became clear, it became apparent that their customers were also professionals in the charm business. The situation in the club was a new phenomenon. Gender roles are constantly changing around the World and here it was happening in the extreme. It was just obvious that these people were all going to be engaging on camera. I really wanted to make a film. I wanted to make it entertaining, clear and in depth."
In Tokyo's Kabukicho district in Shinjuku there are an estimated 200 host clubs, places where pretty boys entertain women. The figure for all of Japan is anybody's guess. The Mainichi Shimbun reported last year that Dai-ichi Mutual Insurance Economist Takashi Kadokura, a recognized authority on Japan's underground economy, projected that revenues for the host club market would reach 1 trillion yen in 2006. That is 8.4 billion US Dollars. Top hosts can earn as much as 10 million yen (USD 84,000) a month.
"Behind the growth of the market for host businesses is increasing patronage by female sex industry workers and hostesses with high incomes," explains Kadokura. "These women, on the average, have 10 percent or more disposable income than do ordinary white-collar salarymen. So another way to look at it is that, the money flowing into the host clubs originates from what ordinary salarymen pay out to the bar hostesses, massage parlor workers and so on, who then wind up patronizing those host clubs when they're off duty."
Host clubs have been around at least since the 1990's. The Guardian's Justin McCurry did a great article on host clubs in 2004. He already alluded to the dark side of such clubs, young women who have run up huge debts at clubs are forced to prostitute themselves to pay off their bills. These kind of stories are heard especially often in Osaka.
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