penelope buitenhuis - writer / director
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The Companionship Industry
A Vancouver director puts the camera on Japan's 'reverse exoticism.'

The Vancouver Sun, Saturday, September 30th, 2000

When Vancouver-based film-maker Penelope Buitenhuis toured the world in her 20s, she bonded with anarchists in Berlin and fell in with the art crowd in Paris- she even briefly flirted with the idea of becoming a hostess to rich Japanese businessmen after spending time with hostessing veterans in Southeast Asia.

"I was fascinated by their stories, but I just couldn't do it. I don't think I have what it takes to look interested when I'm not. I can't sit there and smile if someone is an idiot " says Buitenhuis, who also directed the Gemini-nominated Giant Mine.

Despite her reluctance to immerse herself in the hostessing world as a participant, Buitenhuis decided to do so as an observer and recently created Tokyo Girls, a National Film Board documentary about life in subcultures of paid drinkers, paid listeners and sometimes, paid bedmates to rich, lonely Japanese businessmen.

The film (which screens today at 9:30 p.m-, Robson Square) features several interviews with former hostesses and contains more than a few surprises as some of the paid conversations actually lead to genuine loving relationships.

Buitenhuis says she had a different idea in mind when she started the journey. I was hoping to capture the darker side of the business - the yakuza connections and the more sordid stuff, but the spy-cams we were using didn't work well in low light so we had a lot of footage of just glowing lights in black frames without many people. For a while, we started choosing our locations just on light levels," she says.

"When stuff like that happens it forces you to find creative solutions. You can often get a better film out of it because you have to embrace the material a a different level. In our case, we decided to take a more metaphorical approach to deal with what we couldn't see, and I think it really worked

tokyo

Vancouver film-maker Penelope Buitenhuis was surprised by what she found during the making of her documentary Tokyo Girls.

Buitenhuis says she discovered a form of 'reverse exoticism in Japan where white women are seen as strange beauties, a phenomenon that seems all the stranger when she interviews a white Canadian male addicted to the whole Geisha lifestyle.

"I didn't want to make my moral judgments about these people, because I think judgments are pointless and unfair. All I really wanted to capture was who these people were and how they approached this very strange job," says Buitenhuis.

"The one thing that really hit me in the process of making this film was just how removed we've become from one another. We're isolated and alone, so of course, things like hostess clubs and chat lines will emerge because the only thing that really makes us human is emotional connection to other people. Somewhere along the way, we've confused that with the unholy commodity of sex.

Katherine Monk

tokyo girls

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THE CHARACTERS
Carl Liberman (Toronto)
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