Kabukichô Love Hotel (Sayonara Kabukichô)

Kabukichô Love Hotel is a sweet heartfelt, thought provoking examination of a little-known and mysterious aspect of Japanese culture through genuine love stories of people from all walks of life who converge at a ‘love hotel’; a Japanese version of a sex themed hotel in Shinjuku district of Tokyo. 

It’s a hilarious unusual but honest, sensitive look at the lives, loves and ambitions of a group of ‘Love Hotel’ employees and their customers. We get to know the young troubled staff and their work environment intimately as we follow multiple storylines during a typical night at the Atlas Love Hotel over a 24 hour period. 

Rarely fazed by the illicit events that occur on a typical shift, they sometimes find themselves and their clientele in awkward predicaments. Clearly not their idea of an ideal job they lament their prospects while passing the time hanging out in the employee lounge dreaming of future aspirations.

Unique to Japan, where there are all manner of such seedy but colorful establishments in the entertainment districts, they are frequented by couples who want some privacy and a quick discreet getaway where and they can pick from a variety of small romantic themed rooms of their choice on an hourly or overnight basis. 

Director Ryuichi Hiroki has a personal connection to these characters and this shadowy district, having grown up close to one of these hotels. One senses that this film was a labor of love for him. The 61 year old director, who started out making soft porn films, has a talent for getting the most intimate and genuine performances out of his young ensemble cast who find themselves in the strangest and most embarrassing of situations. He skillfully reveals intimate and touching moments taking place in bizarre circumstances. Some are sad and others border on comedy but all are sincere.

The atmosphere is like that of a close knit family doing unusual work and we are privy to the whole spectrum of experiences that transpire during a typical day and night at the hotel, providing a revealing insider’s look at the intimate private sexual culture in Japan. 

Some of the down and out characters we encounter at the Atlas Hotel consists of a cleaning lady who is hiding a secret and keeping a low profile from the law, a young couple who want to save money to start their own business, and the young disheartened manager of the hotel (Shôta Sometani), who is shocked to discover his girlfriend with another man at the hotel while also having to confront his sister about acting in a porn shoot which is filming there. 

This film touches on some of the many social issues that Japanese youth are struggling with today. Often what brings people to these hotels are painful personal problems of loneliness, and sex in many cases is just a way to relieve or deal with that pain. 

A hit on the festival circuit, this extraordinary brave film transcends cultural boundaries and should find a broader audience outside Japan with its truthful depiction of human frailties and our strong desire for intimacy and love connections. 


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