An ethereal wander through Japanese relationships, Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love reveals the clumsy confusion of human communication.
Virgin Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After Certified Copy, expatriate Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami has passed through the alphabet from Italy to Japan with Like Someone In Love – another understated battle of the sexes with enigmatic storylines of men and women at odds with each other. The disparities here though are even greater, relationships muddied through the dark waters of professional escorts, age and violence. And if Copie Conforme was the end of an affair, surely Like Someone In Love is just the beginning, with all three protagonists approaching love, albeit hesitantly, or with jealousy or nostalgia. Just as in Certified Copy for James and the unnamed woman their new-found love was a facsimile of a forgotten past, with Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love, the emphasis is very much on “like”. And like the American songbook classic it’s named after, Kiarostami’s film is a lyrical and mellifluous rumination on the bewilderment of love.
In a Tokyo restaurant, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) converses with an unseen male – Hiroshi. She stayed up all night cramming for an exam, and she’s tired. Her grandmother has been waiting all day at the station to meet with her, but still Hiroshi ushers her into a taxi, across the neon-lit city and beyond, to meet an unknown client. She meets Professor Tadashi (Takashi Watanabe) at a restaurant, but back at the professor’s apartment, undecided between sleeping and eating, they listen to some jazz music. The next day, Tadashi drives Akiko back to the university, but instead of driving home to sort out the problems with the translation of his book, he waits to drive her back. Akiko argues with her fiancé Noriaki (Ryo Kase), but while the two men are waiting, Noriaki fixes the professor’s car at his mechanic’s shop. When Tadashi returns to his flat, the telephone is ringing off the hook, the print run has had to be halted, and a brick is thrown through his window.
Abbas Kiarostami isn’t afraid of cinematic austerity, and with a lengthy, fixed-plan opening sequence of Akiko conversing over dinner to an unknown interlocutor, Like Someone In Love is a curious mix between art(house) and life, drowned out by jazz music, restaurant hubbub and the clatter of crockery. The restricted view Kiarostami offers us is familiar from Through The Olive Trees and Taste Of Cherry, but here it acquires a disquieting anonymity with a faceless man strong-arming a girl in a relationship we can’t make sense of. It’s interrupted by bathroom tile-counting and friend Nagisa’s failed attempts to lighten the mood with a dirty joke, but through a mixture of persuasion and threats, Akiko finally caves, agreeing to go and meet her geriatric client. Reflections of the Tokyo nightscape on Akiko’s car window create a scene with an observational rigour equal to Ten and Certified Copy as we watch her from the outside, but as a teary-eyed Akiko passes her ever-patient grandmother outside Shinjuku station it’s a beautifully poignant personal failure, modern youth pressured into releasing its grip on family obligations.
Between Noriaki, Tadashi and Hiroshi, Akiko is unable to find a space without men – and this is perhaps the true meaning behind Akiko’s failure to meet her grandmother; there’s no time for congenial meetings between women. And none of them are up to the mark – a kindly, grandfatherly paramour paying for her attentions and a jealous lover who turns violent after finding her escort card in a phone booth. Communication between the sexes occurs over incompatible wavelengths – one wants to sleep while the other wants to eat, and Akiko’s (admittedly unfunny) millipede joke falls hopelessly flat. The men however are quite amenable to each other, caught in a polite tangle of obligation. But like the professor’s book about violence in society, there’s an underlying brutality to their love triangle. And as the telephone rings with aggressive consistency and a brick comes crashing through the window in the final reel, it’s a violence borne of confusion, jealousy and frustration.
The story of an old man’s folly, embroiled in a young couple’s relationship problems, Like Someone In Love mirrors Abbas Kiarostami’s foray into Japanese cinema. Inspired by a night-time taxi journey through Tokyo, the Iranian director is angling for a human connection, but like Professor Tadashi he remains on the outside, on the other side of the glass. It’s a criticism Kiarostami anticipates, zooming in on the picture of a girl in a kimono training a parrot, painted in true Japanese style and without western influence; his film offers an authenticity beyond Iranian, Italian or Japanese cultures and locations, aiming for human and emotional truths. The picture however also raises the very Japanese question of human interaction and communication – after all, who is teaching who? And Like Someone In Love is a masterpiece in miscommunication – failed jokes, irreconcilable wants and broken sentences. Mesmerisingly baffling and occasionally limp (as a glove), Like Someone In Love, like the Ella Fitzgerald song it’s named after, walks as though it has wings.
Like Someone In Love is released on 21st June 2013 in the UK