A young student working as an escort in Tokyo develops an unexpected connection with an academic widower over a period of two days.
Abbas Kiarostami’s last film ‘Certified Copy’ – perhaps his greatest commercial success, thanks in no small part to the presence of Juliette Binoche – was the first fiction feature he’d made outside his native Iran. ‘Like Someone in Love’, named after an Ella Fitzgerald song that features in the film, is the second.
Shot entirely in Japanese with Japanese actors in Tokyo, the film is eccentric even by Kiarostami’s standards. A brief synopsis of the plot’s premise makes it sound straightforward enough: a young student having trouble with money, exams, a visiting grandmother and a jealous boyfriend, is reluctantly persuaded by the bar owner who acts as her pimp to visit an elderly man of – it’s said – some import. But right from the opening scene, in which it’s impossible for a while to tell who’s speaking (it’s the girl, offscreen), what's evident is that Kiarostami is once again taking an intriguingly oblique approach to his material.
So, things don’t turn out at all as one might expect. For starters, the girl’s ‘client’ is an amiable, almost doddery old academic who doesn’t seem to be remotely interested in sex; and almost everything else in the movie – not only motives but even events and identities – appear slippery and ambiguous. It’s not that the story is hard to follow; it’s just so delicate, almost evanescent, that it’s difficult to get a firm grasp on it.
The ending is particularly surprising, and will leave some mystified, even frustrated by an openness that makes the mysterious final moments of ‘Certified Copy’ feel like proper closure. But the film is consistently engrossing, partly because in terms of its compositions, colours and sound design, it’s so elegant, and partly because one is constantly wondering not only what’s going to happen next but what it’s all about. Just a few ideas as to some of the themes Kiarostami touches on: the relationship between truth and falsehood; how and why people form relationships; what would happen if they made different choices; the pros and cons of youth versus age; the difference between observing and participating; and – in what might be occasional allusions to Ozu, a director Kiarostami admires – the value and dangers of accepting whatever life has to offer.
If the closing moments can be summarised at all (which I seriously doubt), they seem to suggest that simply going along with the idea that everything will work out – que sera, sera – is an inadequate response to life’s chaotic complexity. Even if it’s the only one that makes any real sense.
Anon, Time Out, JUNE 17 2013
There is a shot about a third of the way through "Like Someone in Love" of a pretty, perky young lady emerging from an apartment bathroom a different woman. Her hair no longer tied up in a bun but falling wide at her shoulders, her feet bare, her legs no longer moving with girlish timidity but easing along in languid strides that show off their shapeliness. She moves down the hallway to the bedroom, turned away from the camera as the rustle of her simple dress fills the silence. An invitation.
The effect is nearly as jaw-dropping as the helicopter attack in "Apocalypse Now," a quiet demonstration of shock and awe. She's in the apartment of an elderly professor, and he wasn't expecting this. How did writer-director Abbas Kiarostami choose to convey this moment of attempted seduction? A tracking shot behind the woman's swaying hips? A slow pan up the curve of her calves as she slinks away? A panicked handheld shot of the professor reacting to this provocation? No, he just offers a steady view of her trip to the bedroom, letting the moment breathe softly into our ears. An Iranian, Kiarostami has learned from the restrictions his government imposed upon filmmakers how to convey sensuality and smoldering inner life in ways that would force a censor to confess to having a filthy mind.
Unlike many of his Iranian peers, Kiarostami didn't encounter much censorship during production of classics like "Close-Up" and "Taste of Cherry" but simply found some of his films banned. He once analyzed the situation: "I think they don't understand my films and so prevent them being shown just in case there is a message they don't want to get out."
That was when Kiarostami was still working in Iran. He started making films a decade before the Iranian Revolution but stayed for decades after many colleagues fled the authoritarian regime. His rationale was that not remaining rooted in one place would have an effect on his filmmaking like constantly uprooting and replanting a tree would have on its fruit. After directing nearly 50 "rooted" films, he's now roaming the earth. His 2010 masterpiece, "Certified Copy," was shot in Italy and this one takes place in Japan. Yet the tight formal control and discretion remain. These strange new entries in an already strange and unpredictable filmography are the harvest of 40 years.
The befuddled but wise professor in "Like Someone in Love" struck me as a Kiarostami avatar, dispensing his wisdom to the young call girl/college student who ends up in his apartment by happenstance — which, typical of Kiarostami, is the result of many offscreen events that our imaginations must provide. (And if you're looking for a plot description right about now: sorry, friend. There is something like a plot unfolding in this film, but it's best discovered cold.)
The filmmaker is interested, as ever, in shape-shifting roles, surfaces and relationships, but Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), the acclaimed professor who finds himself caught in the middle of a young couple's turmoil, sounds a lot like the somewhat conservative and male chauvinist Kiarostami, who once told an interviewer that men are work-oriented whereas women are affection-oriented; that "marriage is essential for all women." (Kiarostami condemns one character who failed in life's marriage sweepstakes by framing her in a claustrophobic window sill that might as well be at Tochigi prison.)
The director who usually seems stoic because of his ubiquitous aviator shades, but actually wears them because of sensitivity to light, likewise keeps a tidy frame with precise, geometric arrangements and movements but is quite tender when relating a moment of affection or protectiveness. As with other great directors who understand the power of the frame, the former quality supports the latter. When the would-be seductress Akikio (Rin Takanshi) first explores Takashi's apartment, Kiarostami pans along at her pace, allowing us a tour of his bursting bookshelves and papers piled everywhere. Takashi's life story is told through carefully placed family photos and artworks.
Later, we learn that the professor has assumed the role of the call girl's "father" with almost desperate passion — not from histrionics or speeches but through revealing, repetitive actions. Messages on his antiquated answering machine let us infer that he's breaking a longstanding orderly routine to become this girl's protector. He ignores all business calls the instant he learns she's in trouble, and gets to his feet with as much vigor as an often desk-bound 80-year-old can muster.
All of which might sound pretty slight, but Kiarostami's eye and ear render it all in an intriguingly odd, often absurd light. So many of his long-take compositions could stand up to hours of museum scrutiny, which is not surprising for a commercial-illustrator-turned-director who has been experimenting with ways to suggest as many possibilities in a single (sometimes rock solid, sometimes constantly shifting) frame as possible since 1970.
Many critics have noted the wondrously jam-packed and disorienting opening shot inside a nightclub, but every shot in the film, really, is its own universe. Window panes and mirrors often relieve Kiarostami from cutting to and fro by including an offscreen character in a gorgeously warped, faded reflection. His joy in discovering a shimmering new canvas, the city of Tokyo, comes through in each cut to something quietly astonishing. It helps that sound designer Mohammad Reza Delpak makes such an enveloping "score" out of Tokyo's ambient urban cacophony.
Some critics who saw the film at Cannes last year had trouble with how abruptly and weirdly it ends. I'm semi-spoiling it for you now so that maybe you'll make less of it. The characters in "Like Someone in Love" are not very strong-willed or dynamic. The promise of income and social advancement in a ruthless economy lure them to adopt roles that fit them uncomfortably, which further prompts them to take on other roles that help conceal their shame and vulnerability.
Kiarostami presents indefinite people with indefinite motivations and desires. The way this film ends is perfect, I've decided (after wrestling with it for a few weeks) because it's a bracing slap to the face of not just these characters who have been slumming, pretending and withholding, but to many of us who might be going through life on some kind of autopilot. The film's craziest, most easily mocked character emerges as the one most fully alive. Old Kiarostami, master of paradoxes, is set in his ways, but his ways are never set.
Steven Boone, Roger Ebert.com,
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Total Number of Responses: 24
Film Score (0-5): 4.25
We had 66 people tune in for the online screening of Like Someone In Love. The comments received about the film are below:
"Well, certainly a film that's full of questions but I was enthralled until the end of this well-acted slow-burner. It seemed very straightforward to start with. We know it's going to deal with lying as Kyoko speaks a key line "I'm not lying to you." So the film unrolls; paid dating by young women who advertise and prostitute themselves, via a 'protector'. But sex is not mentioned, with pleasantries of Japanese culture meaning her duties are unexplored. What goes on in the professor's head when he pays handsomely to rent a young woman for the night – and then finds himself playing grandfather to both her and the out-of-control young man who's stalking her? The triangle of relationships seems to revolve around cars – lots of shots through windows gives an opaqueness to those relationships, an interplay between private lives and public spaces. What the ending does is shut us off and I still wonder why? But well worth watching."
"I really liked this film. Although set in Japan and middle eastern director I thought the film had an air of French late sixties/early seventies French film about it.
Perhaps it was the lack of action and the largely dialogue driven plot. When action did occur it was usually unexpected.
I also liked the way that the boyfriend's 'menace' was presented - ie it was simmering but seemed under control. Although expected I still jumped when the window was smashed.
Believable performances from the small ensemble rounded it of for me.
Although how did the boyfriend find Watanabe's flat?"
"Having been transfixed by this from the start one thinks; 'I have never seen anything like this before ...but why not?'. Because it seems so very simple; focus close, do not move but tenderly observe and let the very, very good actors act so that every facial flexion counts, every mental flicker is writ large. The stillness gives the film the feel of dream sliding into nightmare as control in the situation slides queasily from one character to another, the close crop leaves us desperate to pull back and look left and right. Morally the film is very muddy, the conclusion suggesting that something more muscular than crossed fingers and a pile of half truths is going to be required. Superb, best film so far this season."
"Sinister throughout and right on the edge of one's seat for the best part of 2 hours. Then cut and roll the credits and let us make up our own endings. Well, ok. I'd rather she'd met grandma and had a meal with her, followed the pimp's advice and dumped the moody, violent, unsuitable boyfriend and then had a nice early night."
"I found this film excellent and very rewarding despite, or perhaps because of, the unusual view into an unusual relationship.
The opening scene in a Tokyo club bar (of which I have seen a few) convincingly conveyed the many conflicts that Akiko was facing, the pressure from her boss to be an escort for his special client, her worries about her studies and imminent exam, her guilt at not being able to attend to her grandmother on her brief visit and the rocky relationship she was in with her apparent boyfriend. So many problems besetting this young and attractive woman immediately brought feelings of sympathy.
In the next main segment when she first visits Watanabe's apartment, she has on her working girl face of smiles and confident questions but underneath she is exhausted and goes to bed after a short seductive walk to the bedroom, much to the confusion of Watanabe who had prepared a special meal with champagne. His obvious disappointment is quickly put behind him, understanding her need for rest.
Then the film takes several interesting turns which reveal rage of the young boyfriend who suspects he is being lied to by Akiko, with the evidence of one of her calling cards from when she first started escort work and some teasing by his work mates. He doesn't have the intellect to understand what is happening and expresses his emotion with physical violence. She now appears scared and uncertain about what to do, with few words and long pauses.
Okuno plays the role of Watanabe perfectly, demonstrating the wisdom of his years and also the patience of a sympathetic older person observing the turmoil in a young woman's life. It is possible to read into the story a lot of different endings but his desire to help her and her need for a father figure - in this case a grandfather figure - to help her find her way, are clear. East Asian faces are sometimes said to be inscrutable but Watanabe's face was full of clear but subtle expression.
Watanabe says at one stage in the car that he has plenty of time and the pacing of the whole film feels as if there is plenty of time.
The framing of the key shots was beautifully done and the Ella Fitzgerald soundtrack was the icing on this cake for me."
"A really intriguing film, slow paced but consistently compelling. A surprisingly abrupt ending which initially felt frustratingly inconclusive. On consideration though it perhaps was the only plausible way to exit within the length of a film, given the numerous themes, storylines and intrigues that were tantalisingly touched upon but not delved into..."
"Loved the long first sequence in the restaurant. Kiarostami captures what real life looks and sounds like and with that pulls us completely into the world of young Akiko and the professor Takashi.
(He repeats this again when Akiko explores Takashi's flat - it's what anyone of us would do when someone invites us in to their home and they have to answer the phone.) And time is given to the viewer to observe and reflect as the story unfolds to a rather abrupt and unsettling end, but isn't that also like real life - sometimes we don't know what happens next?"