L’amant is directed by Ryuchi Hiroki, who made his name in the 1980s as a director of “pink” films (Japanese softcore pornographic films). Thomas Weisser and Yuko Weisser (1998) label Hiroki “the prince of youth porn” for Teacher, Don’t Turn Me On!, centred on the college-age tutor of a high school girl. Based on a popular manga series, L’amant (2004) follows Chikako (played by Ando Nozomi), a 17-year-old schoolgirl, who establishes a contract with three middle-aged men. She agrees to provide sexual services for a full year, and has been selected by them after their dying filmmaker father spotted her from his hospital window. Beyond financial reimbursement, Chikako’s motivations are not presented in the film, and as it unfolds she is presented as forming emotional connections with each of the men, who become increasingly infantilised as she grows older. Beginning at Japan’s age of consent, L’amant concludes when the contract expires and Chikako has turned 18, at which point she thanks the men for making her a woman.
L’amant infers the broader Japanese phenomenon of “assisted, or compensated, dating” (enjo kôsai, or abbreviated as “enko” or “e”), which came to prominence in Japan in the mid-1990s. The culture industries experienced a “high school girl boom” in their focus, which included public interest in girls participating in various forms of sex work. Sharon Kinsella (2002, 229) writes that during that period “It was suggested that by attaching the phrase ‘high-school girl’ (joshi kôsei) to any product it would automatically sell better”. Assisted dating and a wider associated “kogal” style have been interpreted as both a postfeminist, consumption-oriented youth subculture and as the evacuation of previous moral commitments surrounding money and sex (233-235). In Hiroki’s film, the contract established between Chikako and the men exceeds the typical arrangements made by schoolgirls in “assisted dating”. However, L’amant portrays the fetishisation of schoolgirls even as it also appears to relish it. – Liam Grealy
– Kinsella, S. (2002). What’s behind the fetishism of Japanese school uniforms? Fashion Theory, 6(2): 215-237.
– Weisser T. & Y. Weisser. (1998). Japanese cinema encyclopedia: The sex films. Vital Books: Miami.