(Dir. Abbas Kiarostami, Japan/Iran, 2012)
A Lonely Ride
Despite its instantly discernible Tokyo setting, Like Someone in Love is, from its very first shot, clearly the work of filmmaking genius Abbas Kiarostami. The opening credits give way to a static shot of a crowded and lively nightclub. Patrons drink, smoke, and swap stories basking in the sultry ambiance of the place as a woman’s voice becomes distinctly audible over the chatter. Her tone is short, her words defensive, but as viewers our attention is focused on another matter. Here Kiarostami already presents us with a puzzle, even if just a simple one. Our eyes scan the scene for the speaker, but she’s nowhere in the frame. Only when Kiarostami finally cuts to the second shot of a young woman on her mobile phone do we realize she’s been sitting just off camera the whole time; we’ve been looking for someone who’s not there. It’s a perfectly wily gesture for the man who gets his thrills from deliberating distorting audience expectations and challenging assumed perspectives.
Kiarostami’s latest marks his second departure from his native Iran following 2010’s Italian countryside set masterwork Certified Copy. (Perhaps suggesting a late-career cultural curiosity akin to Woody Allen’s ongoing Eurotrip? If so, Kiarostami’s globe-trotting tour – only two films in – is already more successful.) Unsurprisingly, then, Like Someone in Love, though less adherent to narrative trickery than its direct predecessor, bears considerable resemblance to that wonderfully thought-provoking film. And, while his latest never reaches the emotional heights of or engages the mind quite like his previous outing, Like Someone in Love still represents a remarkable entry in Kiarostami’s substantial canon.
It is perhaps best viewed as a related follow-up, if not a true companion, to Certified Copy. Per usual, the film toys with perception and blurs the distinction between reality and fiction, fitting in quite nicely with the director’s numerous projects exploring the same. But, as it relates to his career-resuscitating feature firmly rooted in narrative fiction, Like Someone in Love also hinges on a mistake encounter. No one assumes completely different roles suggestive of an alternate narrative altogether like the art enthusiast and the writer in Copy, but Love’s centerpiece featuring a tranquil car ride bringing its three major characters together requires each to engage in a form of role playing to avoid confrontation. It also cleverly nods toward its predecessor in one brief, yet crucial sequence as two characters discuss the meaning and misinterpretation of a famous piece of art. The car ride and this moment of artistic appreciation especially highlight the dualities imbedded in Kiarostami’s characters.
Akiko (Rin Takanashi), the woman Kiarostami introduces at film’s beginning, lives a double life. She’s a sharp sociology student at university and girlfriend by day and a high-end escort by night. Her desire to keep this side job a secret from her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryô Kase) triggers the necessary role playing between the three later on. The film’s third major character, then, is Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno) – an elderly retired professor who lives alone and hires Akiko presumably for her after-hour services late one evening. When she arrives at his tiny, cluttered apartment, it soon becomes clear that he may be less interested in sex than he is in recreating an intimate night in with a loved one. He’s prepared soup, has poured the wine, and is anxious to sit down to dinner with the young woman. She tries her best to lure him into bed, but he becomes easily uncomfortable, allowing the ringing phone to pull him from the bedroom and wait for her to fall asleep.
The following morning finds the two in the car – another signature Kiarostami move – as Takashi agrees to drop her off at school. Inevitably, Akiko runs into Noriaki on her way onto campus. She pushes past him, but not before he glimpses her chauffeur waiting in his car nearby. He takes the man for Akiko’s grandfather, inserts himself into the passenger seat, and joins the pair when Akiko returns on their way to the local bookstore. Here, Like Someone in Love establishes itself as a Kiarostami film through and through; its vehicular discourses reminiscent of Taste of Cherry, Ten, and most recently Certified Copy. He captures these exchanges in steady long takes and at times beautifully through the windshield so as to reflect the urban sprawl back on itself. Akiko and Takashi insist on their grandfather/granddaughter relationship, and Noriaki speaks of himself now as Akiko’s fiancé (an opportunistic lie or a minute narrative trick?).
The rest of the film follows the repercussions of Takashi and Akiko’s lie and the effect it has on each of their respective relationships. It ends abruptly (and startlingly!) and without resolve, but what else have we come to expect from Kiarostami? This ambiguity may frustrate some viewers, but viewed within the context of Kiarostami’s entire body of work, it’s also entirely fitting. I know of no other widely known filmmaker that encourages viewer participation in his or her works quite like Kiarostami. As with Taste of Cherry or The Wind Will Carry Us or Certified Copy, here he relies on his audience to fill in the necessary gaps: What actually happened that night between Takashi and Akiko? What happened to Takashi’s wife? What is the relationship between Takashi and his yearning neighbor? Are Akiko and Noriaki just dating or actually engaged? Whatever we bring to the table as individual viewers will give us the answers.
Rather than plugging narrative holes or providing his characters with explicated back-stories, Kiarostami is more concerned with ideas and recurring themes. Acts of love populate the entirety of the film, but are any of these characters truly in love? Noriaki insists on marrying Akiko, but his reasons never convince. Akiko defends her relationship with Noriaki, but she’s most often unhappy and at times even afraid. Takashi cares for Akiko and even becomes her protector in a time of need, but he barely even knows her. No, these people are not in love. But, they play their roles each like someone in love, nonetheless. If that notion sparks feelings of melancholy, they wouldn’t be misplaced; Kiarostami uses this concept of something “like love” and the urban sea of Tokyo to evoke personal isolation.
With the modern convenience of city life, communication and travel are easier than ever, and yet oftentimes loneliness prevails regardless. Kiarostami captures this best in an early sequence when Akiko’s duties keep her from meeting up with her visiting grandmother. Per her request, the taxi driver circles the bus station twice allowing Akiko a glimpse of her grandmother before her next appointment. They’re so close, yet there’s an ocean of distance between them. This, paired with earlier shots of Akiko listening to her grandmother’s voicemails on headphones with reflections of Tokyo in the car window washing over the frame, reveal the depths of emotion Kiarostami manages to convey outside the confines of conventional filmic storytelling. Each new release of his proves that he’s consistently one of the most significant and innovative filmmakers working today.