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Rent a Japanese boyfriend, girlfriend, an entire family or watch the movie

Shukan Jitsuwa The Taboo
Shukan Jitsuwa The Taboo
Monthly tabloid Shukan Jitsuwa The Taboo (January) decides to delve into well-worn territory, namely the service that allows customers to rent people for various events or activities.

According to the Hagemashi Tai (I Want To Cheer You Up) Web site, coverage of its matchmaking service has been provided by the BBC, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Independent and others since its founding in 2006.

The magazine says that there are things that one cannot simply buy with money, but professional poser Ryunoichi Ichinokawa is doing his best to make such purchases possible. His service rents fake spouses, relatives, friends, bosses and co-workers to round out attendance at weddings and parties or stand-in partners for one-day dates.

This is hardly news, but is the world — with its voracious appetite for wackyJapan stories seemingly insatiable — prepared for the movie?

The plot of “Rent a Family, Inc.,” which screened in November at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam and appeared in theaters in Denmark over the summer, follows the basic premise of the service by profiling a character named Ryuchi, ostensibly the real-life Ichinokawa.

The director is Kaspar Astrup Schröder, whose film “The Invention of Dr. Nakamats” screened at festivals in 2009 and 2010.

According to promotional material, the star of “Rent a Family, Inc.” is “most happy and thriving when he is at work impersonating as someone else’s family. His own family has no knowledge of this and he therefore lives a double life himself.”

To hear the real Ichinokawa describe his profession to Shukan Jitsuwa The Taboo, truth may very well be tamer than fiction.

The professional stand-in says that for customers seeking fake boyfriends or girlfriends, impersonations occur for practice in talking with the opposite sex, when a concerned parent must be placated about marriage or homosexuality, or for companionship simply due to loneliness.

Rent a Family, Inc.
“Rent a Family, Inc.”
The Web site for Hagemashi Tai, which employs 70 staff members, indicates that the company charges 15,000 yen for eight hours of companionship. An entire family can be rented for 35,000 yen for the same period.

Ichinokawa says that his rate for boyfriend-girlfriend lease is much lower than that offered by the competition. “Frankly speaking, there is almost no profit generated from the boyfriend-girlfriend segment of our services,” he laughs.

There is also no sex. “While many people presume that there are cases where staff members fall in love with customers or provide underground sex services, we can assure you that these activities do not occur,” he says.

Fictional names and addresses of staff members are provided to customers for security. “We also do not send the same staff member to a customer twice,” says Ichinokawa. “It is a preventive measure against stalking.”

The magazine finds this odd since this runs contrary to that of typical service-oriented businesses, which try to obtain repeat customers.

“That is why we generate almost no profit,” Ichinokawa says, referring to the boyfriend-girlfriend service. “We have about four or five inquiries monthly. Annual sales amount to around 800,000 yen. Most of that goes straight to the payroll, with the remainder being equal to a teardrop of a sparrow.”

No sex, no stalking, few customers, little cash — what is in store for “Rent a Family Inc.?”

The film’s Web site does not mention a screening in Japan. Stay tuned…

Source: “Koibito rentaru” Shukan Jitsuwa The Taboo (January, page 202)