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Phil Cox • Director

“Not a brothel, but a place for the mind”


- Interview with the British documentary filmmaker Phil Cox who, with his latest Love Hotel, explores the secrets of the Japanese golden hotels. European premiere at the Bologna Biografilm

Phil Cox  • Director

It’s not just about sex. Love hotels in Japan are eccentric hotels where people go and escape the everyday, to make their fantasies come true. Telling this story is British Phil Cox, who presented his docu-film Love Hotel in its European premiere at the 10th Biografilm Festival in Bologna (June 6-16, 2014). The film was co-directed with Japanese Hiraku Toda and produced by British Native Voice Films and French Bonne Pioche Television (with support from CNC and the European Union Media programme, among others). The directors let us into one of Osaka’s love hotels, in the various themed rooms, where we get to know its clientele: from a married couple seeking to reignite their passion to a single man making his fantasies come to life, a gay couple who has nowhere else to go and a business man who is into bondage. But people also go to the love hotel to close themselves in a room, order dinner and dance.

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Cineuropa: What pushed you to look for these characters and this story?
Phil Cox: I am interested in the dark side of people: my last film, The Bengali Detective, was set in the studio of a private detective in India where people go and share their secrets. In this case, we were looking for stories in Japan and I was taken aback by the fact that two and half million Japanese people use love hotels every day. Nobody had ever filmed inside: they are private and anonymous places – another reason for working there. What was most exciting to me was the same establishment attracted poor people and rich people… Entering that place would have meant collecting all the stories I needed. Love hotels aren’t brothels, but mental spaces, a place where people can be who they are not normally every day. It is much more profound than what you might first think. 

Considering Japanese mentality, how did these people feel about opening up about such intimate sides of themselves?
First of all, the only two people filming them were me and the Japanese co-director, Hiraku Toda, with two small video cameras. What struck me in this hotel is that people were more open to talk about themselves than I would have expected. We often think that Japanese mentality is rigid, but in fact we are all the same. We can all open up. And this happens in a love hotel more than anywhere else. Everyone in Japan goes to love hotels, but no one speaks about it. Even the guests were curious to find out what was going on behind the walls. Everyone had a reason to be there. The film was useful, for example, for the married couple and the couple of gay lawyers to get over their problems.  

The film also documents a moment of change, in which the laws on love hotels changed and became more restrictive. Are these hotels very different now compared to when you filmed them?
The film was filmed between 2012 and 2013. Socially and politically, that was a delicate time in Japan. The country became more conservative, increasingly militarized and nationalism was on the up. But we didn’t want to talk about that. I was interested in telling how government influenced the lives of people and controlled the way in which people loved or desired (dancing after midnight is forbidden, positioning mirrors in certain positions is forbidden). Today, these hotels have had to become business hotels, more standardised.

The visual aspect of the film is very curated, sometimes one wonders whether it is all real…
The film is very cinematographic. The rooms were also already set up like sets: objects, lights, colours, red and pink – all typical of a fantasy room. But this is not important. What is important is concentrating on the people. I filmed a number of stories, but I decided to concentrate on those that developed narratively, otherwise it would just have been a simple reportage. In Japan, these places have existed for the last 6-700 years. They were born as teahouses – private places where people met. In their culture, sex isn’t seen as sin. The film functions to collect its universal aspect. Each and everyone of us needs to let go every now and then, and they have this place where they can do it. The cost? Affordable: $80 for 5-6 hours. 

(Translated from Italian)

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