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The Great Happiness Space: Tale of a Osaka Love Thief

Tyro helmer Jake Clennell casts an avidly curious but scrupulously nonjudgmental eye at the Japanese phenomenon of "host bars" -- clubs where attractive twentysomething men make themselves available to financially independent young women -- in "The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief."

Tyro helmer Jake Clennell casts an avidly curious but scrupulously nonjudgmental eye at the Japanese phenomenon of “host bars” — clubs where attractive twentysomething men make themselves available to financially independent young women — in “The Great Happiness Space: Tale of an Osaka Love Thief.” Novelty value alone should ensure docu will travel widely on global fest circuit. But limited theatrical exposure could also be in the cards.

Pic focuses on symbiotic relationships between boy-toy hosts and free-spending clients at Cafe Rakkyo, reportedly the most popular venue of its kind in Osaka, Japan. Issei, the club’s loquacious owner, is first among equals on a staff of sharp-dressing, smooth-talking hosts who provide “sweet conversation” — among other services — for enchanted women who often are willing to spend thousands of dollars on champagne purchases to “financially worship” their faves.

“For girls,” Issei philosophically allows, “we are products. We want to be desirable.”

Only gradually does Clennell reveal that most of the attractive clients are themselves prostitutes who presumably should know better about looking for love in all the wrong places. And make no mistake about it: Some of the women seem genuinely infatuated, if not obsessed, with their favorite Cafe Rakkyo companions.

Indeed, at least one appears downright self-delusional as she describes her game plan for winning Issei’s love: She’ll simply spend more and more money on him. As she speaks, however, pic repeatedly cuts away to uncharitable remarks by a disdainful Issei. “She thinks her words will get to me,” he says, “when I watch your interview with her.”

Other hosts occasionally admit to slight pangs of guilt as they woo surprisingly naive women. (Sometimes they must divide their attention among several femmes in the course of a single evening.) And they insist that being a host bar boy-toy is much more arduous than it might look. (Issei notes that only “one out of a hundred” remains on the job for more than a year.) But that doesn’t stop the Cafe Rakkyo staffers from competing for monthly honors as the club’s No. 1 money-maker.

First-rate tech package includes aptly moody music score by Robert Coyne.

The Great Happiness Space: Tale of a Osaka Love Thief

Production: A Pimlico Pictures presentation of a Jake Clennell Prods. production. Produced, directed by Jake Clennell.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Clennell; editor, Hisayo Kushida; music, Robert Coyne; sound, Evan Benjamin. Reviewed on DVD, Houston, Jan. 22, 2006. (In Slamdance Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 76 MIN.

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