One of the most surprising facts to come out of first time filmmaker Itako’s intriguing documentary about the whole culture of young Japanese rent boys, is that they were also so relatively normal and matter-a-fact about their profession that they had all chosen as an easy way to make money. Most of the 10 boys the film followed, who are as young as 18 years old, are straight or bisexual, and when one of the newbies asked how to get an erection the first time they had sex with a man, the answer was very simple. Money will always make you hard.
They all work in the Shinjuku 2-chrome area of Tokyo which is home to some 800 gay businesses that cover the whole spectrum of gay life and not just the ‘urisen‘ bars where the boys ply their services. For $5 they will sit at your table for 30 minutes, and if a customers want ‘karami‘ (oral sex) from them, they pay the Bar about $150 for one hour, of which the boy will receive anything from $50 – $80. The real money they make is in the ‘tip’ the client will give them for any extra services, including unprotected anal sex.
Most of the boys were very matter-of-fact about the requests for particular services from their customers who were sometimes as old as 80, but one recounted quite calmly how one night he had been bound and raped. All of them questioned about STD’s and AIDS in particular gave answers that showed both a shocking ignorance or outright denial. This is reflected on a larger scale with the fact that Japan is the only developed country that is still showing an increase in the number of people who are diagnosed HIV+ each year.
One of the bar managers explained that in Japanese culture it is still generally considered inappropriate that men openly have sex with other men. He went on to euphemistically add ‘it is our work to solve that problem and comfort the souls of our customers.’
The boy’s working life is short as the Bars all advertise that their sex-workers are all under 26 years old (they joked that one of their number was the ripe old age of 30) and it is not clear how they spend their new gained wealth as they all live crammed together in one squalid dormitory.
However what this excellent documentary does in such a superb un-sensationalized manner is to show the sheer hypocrisy of it all. Homophobia is still very rife, and sex is still something that the Japanese cannot talk about, yet the rich and famous (and the poor and not so famous) are happy to exploit these young men who unwittingly risk their lives for some easy cash.
P.S. Kudos to director Itako for the creative use of animation to show some of the very graphic scenes that the boys talk about.