Boys For Sale (Mardi Gras Film Festival)
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An intriguing look into the hidden world of Japan’s male prostitutes.
In Tokyo’s Shinjuku 2-chome gay district, predominantly straight male sex workers known as urisen ply their trade with male and female clientele. It’s an area of Tokyo that’s been associated with a largely clandestine sex trade since the 17th century. In Japan, it’s legal for a woman to be paid for sex; however if a man is paid for sex, it’s still illegal.
Boys for Sale, directed by Japanese filmmaker Itako, features warts-and-all conversations with the male sex workers themselves; some masking their faces and several others who willingly reveal themselves. The subjects were ‘on the clock’ during filming, meaning the filmmakers paid the men their hourly rate in order to gain access and interview them. Filming took place in a ‘sex room’ no bigger than a single bed at one of the urisen bars and the documentarians had only an hour to set up, conduct the interview, and leave without being noticed.
Japanese culture is steeped in family honour and an inbuilt sense of propriety, so the honesty and forthrightness on show amidst the threat of being revealed gives these young men’s accounts, immediacy and muscularity. Their stories (interspersed with starkly explicit animation by N Tani Studio and Jeremy Yamamura) are all profoundly similar, amounting to what is essentially a severe lack of options.
The tsunami that decimated Fukushima saw several of the men lose their homes and their jobs in the devastation. Another young man took on his deceased father’s debt and now struggles to earn the money to repay it. The job, they believed, was to be an escort for women and sometimes men. It reportedly paid well. In reality, it requires mainly gay sex, at times unprotected. STIs are part of the daily concerns that go along with those risky activities, given that they would mean an end to the work. The small amount of money that they are left with barely covers living costs and to earn it, many of them compromise their own sense of self as heterosexual men and go ‘gay for pay’. Coupled with this bizarre dichotomy, they also live with the fear of being revealed to the judging eye of their friends and family, living a lifestyle that’s still considered taboo in Japan as well as working in a profession that’s illegal.