The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief
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51 out of 52 people found the following review useful:

Exotic, compelling and intellectually challenging

Author: Chris_Docker from United Kingdom
24 August 2006

The world of hosting is little known outside of Japan, that of glamorous host boys even less. Jake Clennell's mind-boggling documentary is so hypnotic that single young men may want to take notes, and those who are partnered do the same to learn better how to please the female psyche.

The 'hosts' in any of ten exclusive clubs in Osaka only make money if they can be charming and engaging while selling champagne at $500 a bottle. Although there are maybe 100 host clubs, most of them provide female companions for light conversation, company, and laughter (not necessarily sex - which is generally provided from a number of different establishments). Issei, however, presides over a Cafe Rakkyo club, where glamorous host boys, not women, do the entertaining. They make beautiful young women laugh, smile and feel good about themselves - women who pay very handsomely for the pleasure. They party till they drop, women competing with each other for the host boys' attention by spending more money.

"For girls, we are products," says Issei. "We have fake love relationships," and he compares his job to that of Peter Pan, who took people to a world that doesn't exist. "We sell dreams - that's our job." We witness candid interviews with the host boys, including a new lad being interviewed for a job, and also a number of the good-looking young women who frequent the host bars. They confess to how they fall in love with Issei. He, in return, says how although he may have sex with the girls, he often tries not to if that's their aim, because afterwards they are more likely to 'dump him.' Some of these customers have been coming to the club for several years. They pay by the hour for the attention of one of the host boys at the 24hr party room, but he will often be in demand by several women at once. If a woman wants to speak to a host privately, there is a special chair at extra cost ($50). Issei earns about $50,000 a month. He says the thing that stops him earning more is that he cares about his clients and won't let them spend too much money just for the sake of it. He talks about 'healing' his customers Why do the girls come? "When I'm at a host club, I'm treated like a princess," says one. When they have been coming for a year or more, they often look to their chosen host for good advice. A girl never changes host within a club, so a long term 'relationship' of sorts develops. In this high-octane party atmosphere girls spend $1,000 or more in a single day. Issei says the highest was £40,000. "It's about how much girls want to financially worship me," he says. "He listens to me, he entertains me. That makes me really happy," she explains. We see some of the host boys out in the street persuading girls to come for a drink to the club. They have the charisma of TV personalities. The rapid fire conversation and banter is expertly aimed to make the girls smile and feel magnetically drawn to them. In a way it is quite selfless (if highly paid!) and Issei explains that if a host really develops personal needs towards a customer then he can't be effective as a host.

One customer explains how she would be prepared to die for Issei. "To a certain extent, money can buy love," he tells the interviewer with a calm conviction that is slightly unnerving. Only later in the film do we find out more about the girls and how many of them play an equally dangerous game.

The subject matter, the honesty and insight of the interviews, and the dervishlike way the winning lines are so hard to explain away, together with a very sure documentary hand that inserts no moral judgements, make The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief an unforgettable piece of film-making.

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34 out of 36 people found the following review useful:

compelling documentary

Author: eksph
24 August 2007

This is a fine documentary as it first draws you in, building up the myth and reputation of Issei, the enigmatic and charismatic club owner (as others have said). The host boys are indeed hip and stylish, and the initial part of the film shows the 'neverland' where girls can buy an evening with the ideal guy... sad, but still, a standard business transaction, right?

However, after that you learn more about the girls and what they do in order to raise the money to feed their habit or addiction or passion (whichever you may see it as) for their favourite hosts. Then what looked like an interesting social phenomenon starts to seem like a twisted interrelationship between industries.

The film is good because it doesn't take sides; it shows different perspectives on the same issues and leaves you to draw your own conclusions. It shows different aspects of life at the host club, different parts of the process - from picking up girls to closing time. It raises questions - sure, these guys can earn millions of yen a month, but really, what is the profit at the end of the day?

Different people watching it will draw different conclusions, I'm sure. A good one for discussion on gender issues (I for one don't really see it as women getting their own back - to me, the men are still in control here, and women are doubly victimized, but you could take it differently too), social matters, etc. A good watch and a well-made film.

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30 out of 31 people found the following review useful:

well worth a viewing

Author: morgannyc-1 from United States
26 March 2006

The best doc on underground Japanese culture I have seen. It was Refreshing to see an independent doc that held up technically for a Change, excellent camera operation and top notch editing and music. My Friends and myself spent the rest of the night discussing the strange And deep issues brought up by the characters in this film. The film is based around a gang of male hustlers -geisha boys in Osaka was at first a little unsure it seemed that the film had a heavy sense of art direction and a cinematic air that seemed a little incongruous with the harsh realities of the key characters lives, however as the film develops and new twists are revealed it becomes apparent that this is great documentary story telling in a classical tradition.I have never seen such frankness from this element of Japanese society. it was also nice to watch a foreign language doc made for an English speaking audience that did not rely on narration title cards or voice over. An entertaining film with a hidden depth! I would recommend you see this One if you get a chance.

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20 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

Loneliness Amid the Many

Author: groggo from Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3 February 2008

This is a disturbing and important film that peels away many layers of meaning about the mutual manipulation that takes place between men and women. It examines love and need, but what it examines most of all is loneliness. It is a devastating critique of the phony love that is dispensed for money, and what it does both to those dispensing the money and those who profit from it.

The scene of almost all the action in this film is the Rakkyo Cafe, the most popular 'host bar' in Osaka, where women seek the favours of 'host boys' such as the exploitative yet empathetically decent Issei, owner of the bar. The women spend outrageous amounts of money to be pampered and pandered to (and systematically lied to) by these highly skilled and well-groomed young men who are similar to male versions of the famous geishas. The difficulty in maintaining this kind of artifice is evidenced by the high turnover: in many of these bars in Osaka (there are about 100), 'host boys' make a lot of money, but they can't tolerate the stress and demands for very long; few last longer than a year.

Despite being swarmed over by women who profess their adoration for them, the men do not get intimately involved with them. If they get too close, if they have sex with them, the men will lose their illusion of perfection, and will no longer be 'marketable'. These young women pursue a 'happiness place' a la Peter Pan's Neverland. They search for a kind of love that exists only in illusion and fantasy.

Essai is an articulate and thoughtful man who understands all too well the control he has over the women. He also understands the emotional price he is paying for engaging in this activity. He 'loves' them, offers them solace, but he has become profoundly disaffected. 'I can't trust any woman any more,' he says.

This superb film (director Jake Clennell offers no narration and lets his camera do all the work) shows that Issei and all of these well-paid gigolos (without the sex), as joyous as they appear on the screen, desperately want to be loved. They end their long nights at dawn, and go home alone. These shining boys and their adoring 'girlfriends' are, in the end, desperately lonely people.

This film, in a larger sense, is a metaphor for modern society as a whole. In the midst of plenty, loneliness and alienation abound.

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14 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

Illusion and transaction

Author: paul2001sw-1 ( from Saffron Walden, UK
8 October 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes one can feel that one already knows everything there is to know about the world; but sometimes a film, such as this craftily revealing documentary, provides insights into another culture that seem wholly alien and strange. The subject of 'The Great Happiness Space' is Japan's host bar scene, where women pay for the company of men. At first, this intrigues because of the reversal of the sexes compared to the normal client-prostitute relationship. Soon, one makes new observations: that the hosts are very much "pretty boys", not the heaving hulks of unadulterated masculinity that are often held up as the female ideal, at least in the west; and secondly, that the women themselves are young and attractive, a long way from the stereotype of the average man who pays for women's services. Nor do they resemble the stereotype of Japanese women, quiet and demure; in the bars, they are drunken ladettes, and indeed, their relationships with their hosts seem more like those of groupies to rock stars than of punters to whores. In fact, in accordance with common opinions about female desire, but in contrast to normal practice in the sex industry, physical contact, while it often happens, is not what the women pay for; indeed, the men try to avoid it, as what keeps their clients coming back is the eternally unfulfilled promise of love. In one sense, the hosts are performing a con-trick, by selling this promise; but one also thinks, surely the women are willingly deluded. But when one learns the fantastic sums that the clients pay for this privilege, this phenomenon suddenly no longer seems so benign. But how can they afford to pay so much? The answer is, circularly, that most of the clients (at least, the high-spending ones), are also sex workers. In some ways, this makes sense: it explains their affluence, their craving for cathartic recreation, their floating of social norms, and also, perhaps, their willingness to pay for love not sex; yet in another sense, it seems wholly bizarre that those who practice the arts of illusion on their own clients should nonetheless fall so completely for the deceptions of their hosts. They also seem a little too like "nice girls" to be prostitutes, until it is implied that many actually take up prostitution to feed their habit; a healthier habit, perhaps, then heroin and the other drugs that prostitutes are stereotypically addicted to; but, it seems, one just as compelling.

There's something deeply sad about all this, and yet it never feels sordid: the mutually sustained illusion hides the shockingly expensive transaction that lies behind the party, and the dream. And the girls, though surely headed for a fall, seem strangely calm and contented with their delusions, while their playboy hosts are, in the final scene, shown exhausted and hung-over, physically and perhaps morally exhausted by their work. And relating this scene to anything western seems very hard, even though it has arisen in response to universal urges. Truly, we live in a strange, varied, and tragic world.

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13 out of 13 people found the following review useful:


Author: Vantec from Canada
12 December 2007

A wonderful look at the world of hosting in Osaka, where young pretty boys preen and hone the art of fulfilling - incompletely - the fantasies of their female clients at a tragic cost. In a refreshing change from the trend of centering every documentary on the documentary's maker, Jake Clennell stays off camera and is rarely heard. The staff and clientèle of host club Rakkyo Café are free to reveal their stories and insights without interference or dramatizations. Neither are needed as the stories are riveting. Unappreciated sacrifices and unfulfilled desires clash with deceit and opportunism in an atmosphere ruled by cold business ethics and marketed emotions. Clennell structures the narratives beautifully, winding through the artifice to the underlying truth as a night at the club unfolds. By the closing scenes of spent hosts staggering home in the early Osakan morning it's hard not to empathize with their emptiness or envy their bank accounts. One of the best documentaries I've seen, the main complaint is clocking in at just over seventy minutes it's too short. Worth hunting down.

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14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

A movie worth watching for anyone interested in Japan, sexuality and gender.

Author: My Two Lips from United States
19 February 2008

This film, The Great Happiness Space by Jake Clynell, was an intriguing, thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing glimpse into a culture that is, to most, unfamiliar if not unthinkable. It engages the audience in a no-holds-barred look at the Japanese male companionship trade, providing insight into reasons for why men become hosts as well as why women seek out their services. Question after question was raised in my mind not only about the lives of the men working at Osaka's Cafe Rakkyo but also about a culture in which this industry can exist and thrive. What are these women lacking in life that makes them shell out thousands of dollars just for amusement, entertainment and male company? Many reviews and even the synopsis on the website, compare these male hosts to geisha, citing them as a contemporary male version of this ancient tradition, but I have to disagree. Geisha were well trained in a variety of art forms and provided dance and music in addition to their intelligent conversation to the men who paid to spend time in their presence. The male hosts at Rakkyo lack these talents and, instead, offer a different set of services and fill a very specific niche in a Japanese society that has an interesting relationship to sexuality and intimate relationships.

This is a movie to watch, not just to learn about the sex trade in Japan, but also to spark thoughts on why men and women both seek intimacy in its different forms within the service industry. Having lived in Japan and possessing an interest in gender and sexuality issues, I thought I knew what I was getting into when I pressed the play button, but this film introduced ideas and concepts that I shuddered at and could not stop thinking about for days.

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12 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Very good film with a strong structure and an emotional punch

Author: bob the moo from United Kingdom
4 December 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Café Rakkyo is a host pub, where young men act as hosts to young women who pay them for their time. This can involve sex but a good host will keep that for as long as possible because often a customer will leave him and not come back once she has had everything he can offer. The hosts earn about US$10,000 – US$50,000 each month and are mostly young men. The owner of the Raffyo café is Issei, one of the most popular hosts out of his staff of twenty, acts as our way into this strange world of underground love and friendship.

A supremely odd film this one, well, a film of a supremely odd world anyway. I cannot think of anything like it in the UK. Even with the sexes reversed, strip clubs and escorts are very much about money for sex or sexual favours, I can't think of services where women can hang around with men in clubs in the way I saw within this film. I think the film recognises this because it structures itself as a gentle way in to the world for the uninitiated. At first the film just explains it and lets us see the club, listen to the hosts and the girls who come for their company talking about love and longing. However the "twists" come once we understand as the film starts to push below the superficial workings of the club and get a bit more into the people who pay and get paid.

Most of the girls we hear from seem to work in a similar industry as the male hosts and their reasons for going to the club seems to be as part of a healing process. The overwhelming impression is of how fake it all is and how empty the lives be. It put me in mind of the line from Common's most recent album where he talks about a stripper when he says "at first stripping seemed so empowering, Most every girl wanna do it now and then, But being meat every day is devouring" because you can see the emotional damage being done within this world where everything is purchased and a transaction – everyone seems to want the real thing but nobody has it. Some show the cracks but most have it hidden but it does come out – the film wisely keeps the signs of stress and damage till the end, again giving a strong structure.

Overall a very good film about a very strange world. Being so remote from this sort of experience the film could have left me cold but the structure of the film makes it work really well and produces an interesting and quite emotional documentary.

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Sad lives of sad people

Author: blossoms-733-387580 from New York, NY, USA
20 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An amazing and tragic documentary about an unusual phenomenon in Japan. This film was released in 2006, so I wonder if the landscape has changed (ie, are host clubs that cater to women still popular?) I can't help but pity the nihilism in these participants' lives. I can see why many many men have quit working as hosts; they are essentially pimps--they send these girls out to prostitute themselves, then charm and wheedle the girls out of their hard-earned cash. These "hosts" act as therapists to help girls emotionally cope with the stress of being a sex worker only to send them back out to be exploited again. The girls are strung along on empty lies and lots of ambiguity. I'd thought that women in the sex trade would be smart and savvy enough to spot a liar a mile away, but some of these women seem so vulnerable and easily taken advantage of and pretty much everyone is lonely. I feel for them. I am aghast at the lies that each person tells themselves to maintain this horrible, vicious cycle.

To any men that are thinking of picking up "tips" from this film: most women are not so naive as to let you string them along for months without a commitment. Most of us after a couple of breakups come to understand male psychology well--if you're not calling us to plan the next date, we start looking where the grass is greener.

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6 out of 43 people found the following review useful:

Love and Death

Author: q455 ( from United States
9 March 2007

I don't know What movie that last commenter was watching, but it sure as hell wasn't this one. This is a depressing, depressing film, and you will NOT learn any sex tricks in this movie -- in fact, no one actually gets laid at these host clubs. Nor will you learn how to anything about pleasing a woman, nor anything about charm: these youngsters engage in a frightening deathlike ritual, where the traditional courtship rituals are endlessly repeated, completely emptied out of any spontaneity or novelty.

"I would die for Issei" -- one girl proclaims -- little wonder, since every single one of their actions seem to reach out for death.

Is Japan the death intrinsic to modern life? The naiveté of more maddeningly superficial examinations of Japan (e.g. the insufferable Lost in Translation) attempt to delimit the borders of life and death in terms of the most superficial and ethnocentric terms. But, the power of documentary comes from the ultimate NEGATING of racial difference in search of a more fundamental ground for the determination of life and death -- and in the sympathy in which these characters are portrayed and the philosophical clarity in which these characters speak (The Japanese, introspective, sentimental, and highly educated, are naturally drawn towards a certain form of philosophy) we find the possibility of thinking the death of all civilizations.

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