The hotels of longings and fantasies
2.5 million people a day visit one of the 37’000 Love Hotels in Japan. A Love Hotel is not a brothel, but in a conformist society, it is only here where, with wife, mistress, group, partner or alone, people of all ages may unlock their desires and without judgment – ‹love› and ‹be› how they wish.
The documentary «Love Hotel» gives the audience a unprecedented access to this hidden world in Japanese society. This film by directors Phil Cox and Hikaru Toda follows everyday citizens of Osaka from the intimacy of the rooms into their outside realities, revealing the tensions between public/private, fantasy/real and the boundaries in between.They are a married couple, a nurse, lawyers, dominatrix and a pensioner. Unaware of each other, they come to the Love Hotel where their anonymity is protected, but all share the same longingness to love and be loved.
«Love Hotel» will be screened with English subtitles on September 14th in the Alternativkino in Zurich (including a Skype Q&A with director Phil Cox after the film. For tickets click here). Here’s the Asienspiegel interview with Phil Cox, that was first published in German on September 1st, 2014:
Asienspiegel: How did you come up with the idea of making «Love Hotel»?
Phil Cox: In 2011 my small company in London started to think about making a film in Japan. The young and talented Japanese filmmaker Hikaru Toda had joined us in our studio and we looked at many stories – before coming on the phenomenon of Love Hotels. The numbers of people going to Love Hotels each day in Japan where quite staggering – 2.5 million a day! And yet these places were annonymous, private and no one had ever really accessed them to film. They were also not brothels – but actually a space where play, fantasy and escape can be realised. They are not just for sex – but for dressing up, karaoke, parties and even just being alone. The interest in making the film was the realisation that in one space, in one building, I potentially had very intimate stories of rich and poor, old and young who all for a moment where side by side. If I could get access, I could have in one love hotel, a window into Japanese society.
How did you get access to this hidden and intimate world?
This of course was not easy! But the requisite of being a documentary filmmaker is great patience and being able to connect with people and develop trust. We approached many people and many of course said ‹no›. But some where open to the idea of collaborating with the filmmakers on making an intimate film about ‹love and intimacy› in the space of a Love Hotel. We were always very honest and very clear about what we hoped for. Inside the Love Hotel, people were naturually much more willing to talk to us and be open to share themselves as the space was culturally a much more relaxed and easier space for people to reveal themselves. That is the essence of Love Hotel – it is a mental space in many ways – it is where everything that cannot be said outside in a conformist society, can be said and expressed inside. It is a place to fundamentally ‹let it all out› – and be free with desire, play and fantasy. Of course we worked in some cases for years on the relationships with our subjects – we became close friends. Some of them, such as the married couple, found the filming important and used it to explore their relationship more – others such as the gay couple, wanted to be filmed so an audience could see them how they really were without predjudice or distortion. As filmmakers we had a responsability to portray them with sensativity and empathy – and I think, guaging from audiences responses, that we achieved this.
Why are the Love Hotels, in your opinion, so popular in Japan?
Because citizens need a place to ‹let it all out and have some fun›! Japan has a rigid demanding work ethic, a deeply conformist culture and tight living spaces – that all lead to the very human necesity of a space for privacy, intimacy and play. This is what Love Hotel offers. I think it is a very progressive and important space. One of the stories in the film is about a married couple of 20 years who work so hard each day they find they have lost the passion and fun they once had in their lives. They go to Love Hotel in order to try and re-find the fun and play they once had when they met. Love Hotel saved their marriage. Many western industrialised cities share the same problems of overwork and little time for intimacy – but we dont have a space to ‹let it out› like they do in Japan.
Do you think the Love Hotel concept would work in Europe?
I dont think so – Love Hotels are not brothels. People in Europe dont always understand this. European culture has had a very different relationship to sensuality and sex due to its history – which has been dominated by religion and an imposed morality, all of which have often led to ‹shame› and ‹guilt› being connected to sensuality or sexual freedom. Japan has historically been a closed island to Western influences until only recently – and therefore has not been so effected by our morality towards these issues. Of course Love Hotels and the subject evokes some laughter and occassional embarrasement in conversation in Japan – but with 2.5 million going each day, it is not have the same ‹moral baggage› as such places might have in Europe.
Why did you choose the Angelo Love Hotel in Osaka?
We approached many love hotels in Osaka – but non allowed us access. Only the Angelo allowed us in – I think it was simply a case of the right moment on the right day – a little luck came our way.
What were the biggest difficulties during production?
Staying patient and working around the clients schedules and keeping a good relationship with the management of the Hotel Angelo. We had to work in the hotel without interupting their normal business – so this meant we had to be almost invisable as filmmakers. There were also language barriers and cultural barriers – but the team on the ground was myself an English director and then Hikaru Toda, the Japanese co-director, so we overcame many of the day to day issues.
How long did it take you to realize «Love Hotel»?
We began research in late 2011 and filming in January 2012. The film was released in April 2014 – so roughly two and a half years. Pretty good for an observational feature documentary to be honest! Some are much longer.
Which of the portrayed characters did you like the most?
Ah! This is an interesting question. Really all the subjects were special in their own way. The old pensioner Mr Takana, his comic timing and his honesty, Rika the dominatrix with her incredible stories of S and M, Mr and Mrs Sakamoto and their tender moving efforts to save their marriage – they are all my friends and they all reminded me what it is to be human.
How were the reactions from the audience so far?
The audiences reaction have been excellent. I think people are very unsure what to expect – will it be pornography? will it be explicit or sensational? But the film is very warm – with humour and sensitivity and people have responded to this and connected to the characters and their situations. The film has played now in North America, in France, in Australia to sold out audiences and soon will be in other countries across Europe and in Asia.
Is there anything you would like to add?
This is many ways was a dangerous film to make. My fear was to make a voyeristic film from a very western point of view showing Japanese people as being weird and freaky with sex in Love Hotels – very much a Lost in Translation stereotype which this is not. My film would have been a failure if this had been the result. But with my co-director being Japanese we had the right balance to have an ‹inside› and ‹outside› approach and were determined to spend a great deal of time to achieve intimacy and depth with the subjects of our film – so essentially the audiences could relate to and see themeselves in the people on the screen. I think Love Hotels are progressive and important. As human beings, we all are made up of complex desires, emotions and frustrations – and simply repressing them or seeing them as ‹bad› is not always healthy! Love Hotel is a safe and private place where we can find intimacy, play and let our fantasies out without predjudice – this can only be a good thing!
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