Directed by: Abbas Kiarostami.
Written by: Abbas Kiarostami.
Starring: Rin Takanashi (Akiko), Tadashi Okuno (Takashi), Ryo Kase (Noriaki), Denden (Hiroshi), Mihoko Suzuki (the Neighbor), Kaneko Kubota (Akiko’s Grandmother), Hiroyuki Kishi (Old Student), Reiko Mori (Nagisa), Kouichi Ohori (the Taxi Driver), Tomoaki Tatsumi (the Auto Mechanic), Seina Kasugai (Nagisa’s Friend).
Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love feels like the Iranian master playing around. Like his last film, Certified Copy (2010), this is a movie in which spend a lot of time pretending to be something they are not. In Certified Copy, we never find out if the couple at the center of the movie is what they seemed to be in the first half of the movie – people who have just met, who are playfully flirting and getting to know each other, or the second half of the movie, a long time married couple on the brink of divorce. The movie withholds that information from the audience, so only the characters – not even the actors, and perhaps not even Kiarostami – knows for sure. Like Someone in Love is different in that this time, the audience knows more than the characters do. We see the entire picture of what is unfolding, while the characters only see their part of the picture. So depending on who is interacting with who, they are essentially playing different characters.
The film opens with Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a beautiful young Tokyo University student who pays the bills by moonlighting as a prostitute. She has to hide this fact from her jealous, obsessive, possibly violent fiancée, with whom she’s on the phone when the film begins. He makes her tell him where she is (she lies) and then makes her go to the bathroom and count the tiles on the floor, so he can stop by later and see if she was lying or not. She has lies to her family – she has been dodging calls from her grandmother all day, who is Tokyo and waiting for her to arrive at the bus station so the two can talk. But Akiko blows off her grandma, when she is sent to see a “very special client” just outside of Tokyo. In an extended, and heartbreaking scene, Akiko sits in the cab taking her to her client as she listens to one message after another from her grandma, and then has the cab driver drive by the bus station, more than once, so she can see her grandma sitting alone waiting for her. She is too ashamed to get out and talk to her.
When she arrives at the client’s house, she finds it is Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an old professor, and the two have a sweet conversation, before she disappears down the hall to the bedroom – slowly trying to seduce him (which is a good guess by her, since she is a prostitute, and assumes this is what he wants). But he isn’t really interested in sex – he just wants company for his meal. The next day, he’ll drive her to school, and see as she is confronted by her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase) – and her storming off. Noriaki then comes to talk to Takashi, because he saw her get out of his car, and mistakes him for Akiko’s grandfather – a mistake he doesn’t correct.
Like Someone in Love is an interesting film, because at times it seems to be a light comedy, but the film certainly takes some dark turns. The most amusing sequence is when Takashi and Akiko first meet, and talk, and learn something about each other. Her attempted seduction of him is brilliantly handled, as she slowly walks down the hall, and the camera watches her go. And while the conversation between Takashi and Noriaki starts off fairly light and amusing – it is after all a comedy of errors at this point, it starts to hint at the darkness that is coming. Noriaki and Akiko have gotten engaged, according to Noriaki because “once we’re married, she won’t be able to hide anything from me. She’ll have to answer me”.
Kiarostami plays with conventions a little bit here. Normally, when you have two young people in love, and an older character there to give advice, you would expect that older character to be wise – that his life experience would give him some insight. But Takashi is just as clueless as Akiko and Noriaki – continually insisting that “everything will work out”, even as it becomes increasingly clear that certainly is not the case. The wisest character may well be Takashi’s neighbor, who in an interesting scene, tells almost her complete life story to Akiko – who seemingly learns something.
Like Someone in Love is not a great film like Certified Copy was. That film remains endlessly fascinating, and haunts me even two years after I first saw it. By comparison, Like Someone in Love is fairly lightweight. It certainly feels like Kiarostami simply treading water, deciding what direction to go with his career now. But Kiarostami treading water is still immensely satisfying – a sometimes touching, sometimes funny, sometimes dark, sometimes heartbreaking little film.