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Tokyo Girls (2000)

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Being a hostess in Tokyo is really not that simple. At least Director Penelope Buitenhuis claims that through the tale of four hostesses in her documentary Tokyo Girls. Throughout this emotionally ambiguous film, a sense of complexity and complicity becomes evident, and straight lines become blurred.

At first, it seems Buitenhuis is simply giving you a first-hand look at how working as a hostess in Tokyo is a 'more economical spin-off' of Geisha culture. It seems to be another option women use to achieve financial freedom. The interviews, for example, explore the reasons these foreign women choose such an unorthodox career. Each hostess describes her job as easy, entertaining, and rewarding. Their job, it seems, is a dream come true for them.

But soon, the scene and the story shifts. Like a Barbie doll cut-outs, they hover over expensive cars, glitter in the middle of the street and on the sidewalk, and don't fit anywhere. They begin to recount experiences that are now more reminiscent of nightmares, rather than dreams. The dreams have given way to a 'twilight zone' where nothing is as simple, and straightforward as it seems.

As the film trudges on to an uneasy close, Buitenhuis 'lightens' the mood and attempts to look at the 'practice' from the men's point of view. Sarcastic comments, however, hint at a more subjective intent. The images get darker and more sinister. In contrast, the men describe their visits to hostess clubs as an essential part of getting ahead in business. They portray themselves as clients and pragmatically talk about the money they spend as an investment in their success.

Still, the director seems content with implying that the hostesses are being exploited by the rich and powerful. She seems to gloss over the fact that these women have willingly chosen to work in this illegal industry for money. As such, Tokyo Girls is an expose that stirs up strange reactions; and in the end, even the allusion to a silver lining is smudged.


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