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!

Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsA sce­ne from «Love Hotel».
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsInsi­de a Love Hotel.
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsA sce­ne from «Love Hotel».
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsPhil Cox, direc­tor of «Love Hotel».
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsCo-direc­tor Hika­ru Toda during production.
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsOza­wa-san, Mana­ger of the Ange­lo Love Hotel
Foto: Nati­ve Voice FilmsInsi­de the Ange­lo Love Hotel in Osaka.
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