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New Filmmaker Uncovers Dangerous Japanese Nightlife (click here to view full article)

Deep in the cities of Japan, promises of wealth and freedom lure young women from all over the world to work in hostess clubs, charming men who are looking for night-time entertainment. These promises are often false, as many of the hostesses are forced into prostitution and servitude; some are murdered and some completely disappear. It’s this plight that new filmmaker Elena Shpak sought to uncover in her short film, “Hallucination.”

The film explores the lives of two young women: Satomy, the careful veteran from Japan, and Mira, the naïve newcomer from Russia. Upon first meeting in the club in which they work, Satomy and Mira are drawn to each other, sharing a common yearning for happiness and freedom from the troubles that have brought each of them to the Japanese hostess club. Shpak ex-plains, “Their feelings of love are deeply hidden until the two of them meet. Despite their unfulfilling jobs and the dull and false atmosphere of the club, they both are drawn to each other, establishing a unique connection at first sight, without words, just by sight and spirit.”

As is the case in Japanese society, hostesses are marginalized and are left to fend for themselves, as oftentimes even the police cannot be trusted. Satomy’s and Mira’s lives are con-trolled by dominant men seeking to satisfy their own interests, leaving the two vulnerable heroines lacking trust in anyone but each other. Shpak observes, “These two girls are dreamers and they don’t realize that like all dreams without substance, theirs are very fragile and could disappear at the slightest touch of danger. Yet events cause the characters to realize that happiness in life is fragile, yet precious, and with that knowledge they will try to change their lives and the world around them.”

Shpak, a native Russian, learned of hostess clubs while living in Japan. “I found the protagonist of the movie one night when I visited a hostess club in Tokyo, where both Japanese and Eastern European girls were working. Many of the foreign girls were working without work permits. However, for some reason none of them wanted to go back home. Since then, I have been studying how many young women in Japan and in Russia suffer from a male-dominated, sexist society and are sexually abused, as happened to Satomy and Mira.”

Having studied history and psychology in school, Shpak discovered her love for filmmaking upon attending numerous film festivals. Now residing in New York, she has honed her skills while participating in several film courses at New York University and the School for Visual Arts, and in making her first film, “Hallucination.” The 46-minute short was screened in November 2008 at the Queens International Film Festival and will again be screened on January 4 as part of the NewFilmmakers New Years Festival in New York City. For screening information and more information on the festival, which runs from January 2 - 4, visit Newfilmmakers.com. For more information on the film, visit its official site at Hallucinationmovie.com.

Daniel Quitério,
LIMITé Magazine, December 16, 2008



“Hallucination” gives us a privileged view into the murky world of hostess bars in Tokyo and into to the private lives of two young women, one of them Japanese and the other from Russia, who work there.  Satomi is a seasoned professional and a favorite of returning clients. She can stand up to the club manager and work on her own terms, but is troubled to this day with a dark secret from childhood about her father, an inveterate sexual creep. Mira is newly-arrived in Tokyo and finds work in the same club. She is awkward at first, accidentally spills a drink on a high-rolling client, and is unable to communicate in Japanese.  Satomi takes her under her wings and very quickly teaches her to fly. A friendship develops. We listen in on their conversations as we walk with them through Tokyo’s streets and parks and at the seashore, and look in on Mira’s auto-fashion photography in the fitting room of a dress boutique, and at their first intimate moments together. 
Behind these peaceful scenes there is turmoil. Foreign hostesses have been disappearing in Tokyo as prey to unknown predator clients; Mira’s visa is expiring; and Mira’s father, a gangster back in Moscow, wants her home and sends a thug to get her. Mira’s solution for staying in Japan is like than of so many other young foreign women before her: find a Japanese to marry, even as an economic arrangement only. With that in mind, she starts dating a favorite client, an older Japanese businessman, but all hell breaks loose when, lo and behold, he turns out to be the creep of Satomi’s girlhood. How does it end? I’ve told you enough already and will be the spoiler no more.
Not only is “Hallucination” a good story, with thriller plot and personal intrigue, it’s rich with sociological insight. There are hostess bars and the impenetrable culture of Tokyo’s nighttime “water trade; and there are gangsters from Japan and gangsters from abroad. There is also the subject of Japan’s relationships with foreigners: usually polite and host-like, often awkward or puerile, and sometimes xenophobic. We see these things too and stand informed.

Roman Cybriwsky
Writer, Professor at Temple University



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