Like Someone In Love (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: New Wave Films) Running time: 109 minutes approx.
Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a student and escort in Tokyo sent to the home of an elderly widower Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno). After being mistaken for Akiko’s grandfather by her fiancé Noriaki (Ryo Kase), Watanabe runs with the role and an unusual relationship blossoms between the call girl and her elderly client.
Noted Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami strays once again from his native Tehran, this time to the neon metropolis of Tokyo, for what feels like an authentic thoughtful Japanese film despite the director being a gaijin. It might be too slow and stilted for mainstream audiences but the reality is this film is anything but, saying so much through the characters and their words and the simplicity of their lives in what inadvertently becomes a rather complex situation.
Shy Akiko doesn’t look like your typical escort and the argument she has with her boss Hiroshi (Denden) about her refusal to “go all the way” suggests she doesn’t enjoy her job. She also has a possessive fiancé in Noriaki to contend with, who regular phones Akiko to check up on her which adds to her woes as Hiroshi and Akiko’s friend and colleague Nagisa (Reiko Mori) advise her to break off the engagement.
Watanabe is a retired professor who translates books on the side and it is clear that he is in no fit condition to do anything other than chat with Akiko. He makes Akiko some soup from her home town and simply wants to talk but Akiko jumps into bed, only to fall asleep.
Our first meeting with Noriaki is after Watanabe drops Akiko off at college where he is waiting and the ensuing conversation doesn’t look friendly. Noriaki approaches Watanabe and assumes that he is Akiko’s grandfather, a mistake Watanabe doesn’t correct him on, allowing for a candid conversation to take place between the two.
The genius here is that Watanabe chooses his words carefully and while he doesn’t overtly confirm he is Akiko’s grandfather he subtly drops enough hints that he isn’t which is too cryptic for a hot head like Noriaki. Interestingly Noriaki’s explanation for why he is so possessive towards Akiko seems quite honourable if a little old fashioned, and may shock people in the West for what is a fairly traditional Japanese attitude.
This scene is indicative of the film’s powerful use of dialogue which is actually fairly sparse throughout, revealing so much of the plot and about the characters by saying so little and keeping things as natural as possible. In the opening scene we see a bar full of people but just one voice is heard.
Who is the speaker? The red haired girl (who we learn later is Nagisa)? The woman at the table behind her? Or is a narrator? The camera spins round to reveal Akiko talking on the phone, yet everything she said could have been relevant to anyone shown on screen. Akiko and Watanabe discuss a painting of a woman and a parrot which Watanabe has that sounds dull but again is incredibly revealing about our mismatched couple.
Kiarostami’s style is very visual allowing the images to tell the story as much the dialogue does. Akiko is supposed to meet her visiting grandmother but the pair never meet due to Akiko’s work. As the taxi heads to Watanabe’s place, Akiko listens to the seven messages on her mobile phone detailing the day of her grandmother all alone in Tokyo, while the illuminations of night time Tokyo reflect off the taxi window and onto Akiko’s tearful face, courtesy of cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima.
Another stunningly shot scene shows a distressed Watanabe trying to encourage a naked Akiko to get out of bed and have some soup but we never see Akiko – she is reflected in the blank TV screen next to Watanabe. This is both teasing yet wonderfully subversive all at once.
Some might find this moderately paced affair a drag as Kiarostami often relies on depicting quotidian detail, including a shot where Watanabe falls asleep at the wheel while stopped at the lights, but as dull as this sounds no such feelings of ennui are engendered as the characters all feel real and inherently fascinating to watch. This is a key strength of the film that everything feels genuine and utterly plausible.
Aside from the discussion with Hiroshi at the start of the film, nothing feels acted or false, and the abstract camera angles create a cinema vérité feel, adding to the intimacy fostered by the minimal cast and naturalistic performances and scenarios. Rin Takanashi is suitably angelic with her natural girl next door prettiness and open vulnerability while Tadashi Okuno as Watanabe is almost a throwback to the patriarch of an Ozu film. Providing the raw energy of the trio is Ryo Kase as Noriaki whose role is small but vital to the plot.
The biggest point of contention that will infuriate as much as it will create discussion of unspeakable pretentiousness is the ending. To say it is abrupt and open ended, leaving nothing answered or explained doesn’t do it justice. Having invested so much in this unconventional relationship and the characters, no-one can be blamed for being short changed with the closure denying denouement Kiarostami left us with. In mainstream terms it would be seen as an indication that a sequel is due but we know that Kiarostami has no such intentions, the swine!
Like Someone in Love is a film as deceptively multi-layered as its title, delivering a genuinely absorbing viewing experience for the patient film fan. Sumptuously shot, wonderfully acted and deeply affecting this is a sublime outing although the ending is sadly likely to raise more ire than praise.
Rating – ****
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