Petit Ami Parfait (Perfect Boyfriend, 2022), directed by Kaori Kinoshita and Alain Della Negra and produced by Ecce Films (France) was on the Harbour program of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). It has been created between documentary and drama; thus the film has been divided into real-life and digital identities. We can sum up the plot of the narrative as follows; In Japan, three adult men, separately from their professional life and emotional relationships, play a virtual game called LovePlus and they fall under Rinko’s spell, the game’s main character. During the weekend, they try to be a “perfect boyfriend” for Rinko in the Japanese port city of Atami. A couple of teenage lovers also visit Atami and the girl understands her boyfriend falling for the virtual Rinko instead of her. Otherwise, an elderly couple shows what is the real-life love and caring for each other.
We can see the digital-self and the real-self concepts in the film and also we can say that we watch the sexualization of a game character and toxic kawaii culture. In the digital world, the user can only exist by communicating. If they don’t create a profile, they cannot exist for the digital community because they are not visible and in this case, material things become more important. If there are emotional things for the users, these emotional things become shallow. Everything happens in a frame and people communicate with their representations. In the film, three adult men have a job or a relationship but their aims are obvious; they want to be a perfect boyfriend for a virtual game character and they also say that she is better than the real women but when we look at the teenage couple, we see that he cannot distinguish real life or real love from the virtual world. He is there with his girlfriend but his actual girlfriend is Rinko. We witness the switch of the girlfriends and notice that he’s not aware of this alteration since he’s not into her or them. He tries to live a double life and in the meantime he misses out on important things that everyone else doesn’t have.
One of the characters in the film tells of a game story about a hikikomori. Japanese hikikomori is the nominalized form of the verb hikikomoru, meaning to withdraw into seclusion. It is from; hiku: to withdraw oneself; komoru: to seclude oneself. Hikikomori is described as “post-modern hermits”. A hikikomori has a tendency to avoid reality and they shut down themselves to others. In the modern age, with the development and use of technology, most hikikomori start to play online or virtual games because playing the game is a way of escape from reality. In the film, characters are not fully hikikomori but we can at least say they are absolutely “part time hikikomori” because they run away from real bilateral relations from time to time. Since this movie is half documentary and half drama, we can see its subject in real life as well. In some news, we can read that some people go to Atami for games just like in the film, or witness a 48 year-old player who spends his alone night times in his bedroom with his console, chatting with Manaka, his virtual girlfriend of five years. For instance Loulou d’Aki, a Swedish photographer who documented a number of Japanese players, says: “The girls behave very sweetly with the guys in what they say, how they respond to them, and with big eyes and heart-shaped faces—who wouldn’t want that?”.
We also know that some women in Japan get interested in virtual dating games like Japanese men. They think that Japanese men are shy and it is not easy to approach them. Although Japanese society seems modern, it is still very conservative fundamentally. Also these virtual games increase the expectations that Japanese women have towards men. Many social scientists tell that these phenomenon are negative for people’s behaviors because they collate real men or women with virtual characters and they hardly adapt to real life, sometimes they cannot even adapt at all. We have said that one can see the kawaii in the film, Japanese femininity is associated with the concept of kawaii, which is linked to Japanese women’s place in society. Kawaii girls are seen with wide-eyed and babyish colors and they are always cute-looking. As a matter of fact cuteness is connected with anything or anyone regardless of gender, but women are expected to appear kawaii. Researches present that girls see themselves as kawaii more than boys. Japanese women want to be “cute” over- being “beautiful” or “sexy”. In this regard, Japanese women associate kawaii with innocence and childishness in their minds.
In Japanese language there’s a word for women who are hyper-masculine or women who are not womanly: “oremeshi onna”. This term unfolds a parody of an autocratic husband’s command that his wife is obligated to feed him. If a woman tries to be kawaii with insincere behaviors, she is being called a “burriko”. This is all to say that people who defend and guard the patriarchal system create these words and types of femininities. People, who are not pleased that various forms of femininities exist, ignore the real life and real-human beings and approach the virtual ones. The old man in the film says that women are like diamonds. A diamond woman is supposed to obey her man. Although he is in a real relationship with a woman, this thought explains how Japanese women are seen. Whether it’s a real or a virtual woman, men stereotype women in every way.
In the sequence that Rinko speaks, we hear these sentences; “I, Rinko, and all the people around we all live and breathe, but what if in reality, we were in a dream? Aren’t our feelings created artificially by our brain? And what if our brain was dreaming then? You see? There is no guarantee. Are we awake or are we asleep?”. They always mention freedom in games but they don’t know this freedom is very limited and real life includes much more choices. This misleading freedom moves people away from reality. As long as they substitute the virtual world for the real one, they genuinely don’t know if they are in a dream or in real life.