The love hotel is one of those “Only in Japan” phenomenons (though there are actually love hotels all over Asia, but it started in Japan), a remnant of the sexual repression which has been an ongoing element of Japanese culture for ages. It used to be a place where prostitutes did their thing but has grown into being a place where people can privately get outlets for their sexual fantasies. Apparently there are 37.000 such hotels in Japan and 2.8 million people visit them daily (there are 130 million people in Japan, you do the math).
The documentary Love Hotel follows several clients of one such hotel in Osaka, as well as the staff. The clients include a middle aged couple trying to “spice things up”, a professional dominatrix and one of her clients who has a thing for leather body suits, a gay couple and a 71 year old man who always stays there by himself.
Love Hotel offers a fascinating glimpse into a certain part of Japanese society and does manage to give you a bit of understanding as to why Japan is considered by many to be the weirdest country in the world (basically: The whole country is sexually repressed so they get their outlets in weird ways, but of course it’s more complicated than that).
But what we get is really only a glimpse and what this movie tries to say in 75 minutes could easily have been done by a VICE documentary in 30 minutes. Love Hotel manages somehow to be both too long and not long enough, it doesn’t give you enough of an understanding of the phenomenon and yet it dwells too much on minor details and there’s really just too many characters so we don’t really get to know any of them well enough.
Pacing and rhythm is another problem here as the structure just seems kinda random. We jump from one person to another and they’re stories don’t develop much. Gradually it’s revealed that the hotel is in danger of being closed because of a new “entertainment law” which will force the hotel to make a lot of changes, something which might scare off costumers, but the details of this law are kept very vague.
It is admirable how the filmmakers managed to make all those people bare it all in front of the camera as most of them appear naked and at what seems like their most vulnerable moments, but then again a lot of it just feels too produced and the subjects might just be play-acting for the camera. There’s some truth here but it’s hard to tell how much truth.
The best thing that can be said about Love Hotel is that it’s “cute”. Most of the subjects here seem like very sweet people and what they’re doing doesn’t come off as sleazy or too weird, these are just regular people trying to find love and happiness in their own special way. Love Hotel is short and sweet and quite watchable overall but not much more than that. It’s yet another documentary with a fascinating subject matter that’s dragged down by mediocre and unimaginative filmmaking.
The Good: It’s nice to see a movie that shows people who like weird sex and S&M that are just sweet and regular people but not weirdos or freaks.
The Bad: This movie easily could have been half as long as it is and said just as much as it says.
The Japanese: One of the rooms in the hotel is called the “Disco” room. It simply consists of a lot of blinking neon light scattered around the room, and a rotating bed.