Director: Abbas Kiarostami
Screenplay: Abbas Kiarostami
Cinematography: Yanagijima Katsumi
Soundscore: Mohamadrez Delpak, Kikuchi Nobuyuki
Cast: Takanashi Rin, Okuno Tadashi, Kase Ryō, Denden
Runtime: 109 min
Seen at the film’s UK premiere at the 56th BFI London International Film Festival. Like Someone in Love will be released in select British cinemas via New Wave Films on June 21, 2013.
Like Someone in Love premiered in Cannes last year, where it sharply divided the critics, leaving some rather disenchanted, if not highly irritated, in particular with its rather abrupt ending. “[T]he curtain comes down with an arbitrary crash” noted Peter Bradshaw, resident film critic for The Guardian, while Mike D’Angelo (A.V. Club) gave it a “WTF” rating, declaring the final scene “a startling, truncated conclusion that seems completely out of proportion with the lazy, anti-urgent meandering that precedes it”, ending with the words ”I know there’s something happening here, but I don’t know what it is”.
The negative reactions may have put off some, including several of my readers and fellow film fans, but Like Someone in Love remained on my must-see list for the BFI London Film Festival. Granted, I had been forewarned aplenty about the final scene and as a complete Kiarostami newbie no comparison to previous masterpieces would land me disappointment. Furthermore, I was simply too curious about this movie: filmed in Japan with Japanese actors that only speak their native tongue, yet with the director hailing from Iran. This background to the making-of is a rare, although not entirely unheard of scenario – John Williams is one example of a foreign (Welsh in his case) filmmaker to have made several Japanese films (「いちばん美しい夏」/Ichiban utsukushii natsu/Firefly Dreams, Japan, 2001; 「スターフィッシュホテル」/Sutāfisshuhoteru/Starfish Hotel, Japan, 2006;「佐渡テンペスト」/Sado tenpesuto/Sado Tempest aka Arashi, 2012, Japan/UK/Hong Kong). There is, however, a major difference between Kiarostami and Williams: the latter has lived in Japan since 1988 and is fluent in the language as well as culturally conversant. It is a difference that is significant, given the challenges that come with making such a film, certainly if it is to be made well.
That said, Kiarostami is not a novice. With forty-two films to his name, critically acclaimed productions include طعم گيلاس (Ta’m-e gīlās/Taste of Cherry, Iran, 1997) and باد ما را خواهد برد (Bād mā rā khāhad bord/The Wind Will Carry Us, Iran, 1999). He has also directed outside of his native country before, making the 2010 Copie conforme (Certified Copy) in France with Juliet Binoche in the lead role. Indeed, of all the eight films I watched at the BFI Festival, Like Someone in Love was the most polished one, the subtle insertion of details – the curtain scene with the nosy neighbour, the nerve-wracking indicators of the professor’s age as he nods off behind the wheel of the car – evidencing an assured hand at work.1
The story that Kiarostami tells is deceptively simple and sliced straight out of every day life: Akiko (Takanashi Rin) is a student who earns money by working as a hostess in a bar, a part of her life that she keeps a secret from her increasingly suspicious boyfriend Noriaki (Kase Ryō). One night she is persuaded to attend to a client in his home, her boss telling her that she “won’t regret it”. The person seeking her services turns out to be an older professor of literature, Takashi (Okuno Tadashi), who is very much the grandfatherly type. When Akiko beelines for the bedroom, he offers her a meal and glass of wine instead, with nostalgic-romantic chansons (including Ella Fitzergerald’s rendition of the title-giving Like Someone in Love) playing in the background, as if he were to dine with his spouse of many years. But it is precisely not his wife, who is deceased, that he is wooing here, but a young girl who wants money for sex, not love. How the night of passion eventually plays out or not, we do not know, as Kiarostami cuts to the next morning, when the professor drives the girl to college. It is there that they are seen by Noriaki, who initially presumes that the man is the grandparent that Akiko has been expecting a visit from but soon becomes skeptical.
As the drama between the three main characters unfolds, it becomes clear that none of them is particularly likeable or deserving of our sympathies. Akiko is a self-centred girl who heartlessly abandons her countryside grandmother to the wild jungle of Tokyo city and lies her boyfriend in the face without flinching, building a relationship she neither needs nor wants on dishonesty rather than dumping him. Being treated in such way it may initially seem like Noriaki is to the one to be pitied, however, he quickly turns out to be volatile, violent reactions revealing a jealous, even dangerously obsessive streak in him. And then there is Takashi, who, with his advanced age and professional achievements, is nothing but a respectable elderly gentleman in the eyes of society. Yet beneath this exterior lies a creepy old guy content to hire young, pretty girls without even a hint of moral qualms.
Kiarostami’s aim is indubitably to expose the façades behind which people hide, to tear off masks and show – to viewers, though not necessarily to the characters in the film themselves – the much more unpleasant faces that lie beneath. Although these people are not the worst of humanity (they are not murderers or rapists, but relatably flawed individuals), it is an uncomfortable, even disillusioning truth that becomes visible. Akiko and Noriako are rather easily unmasked and while their actions are inexcusable (Akiko is not a young, innocent girl but simply selfish and determined, Noriako has serious anger management issues), we could almost forgive them because of their age for it means they may still change in time – notwithstanding that Kiarostami offers no encouragement for such hope. Takashi’s mask, meanwhile, seems frighteningly irremovable, his place and role in society as the kind and cultured elderly gentleman essentially being unchallengeable. He plays the part even behind the closed doors of his apartment, Kiarostami giving not even a glimpse (or hint of a glimpse) of any action in the bedroom. But as much as grandpa charms with his gentle demeanour and home-cooked soup, the elephant in the room remains: the sexily-dressed call girl that could well be his grandchild – in fact, that he disturbingly treats as if – giving advice, offering car rides, even pretending to be a relative when meeting Noriaki. Although there is nothing to confirm that Takashi and Akiko sleep with each other, it is undeniable that there is more to the former than outward appearances would make us believe: he is not merely a wizened scholar that pores over books.
The conclusion is indeed abrupt: Like Someone in Love ends as if in the middle of a scene and yet this feels quite appropriate. Kiarostami’s film falls into what is known with manga and anime as the slice of life genre - a story of average, daily happenings – but also exists more widely in literature and the arts as “a seemingly arbitrary sample of a character’s life, which often lacks a coherent plot, conflict, or ending” and as such shows “little plot progress and little character development” and often “no exposition, conflict, or dénouement, with an open ending” (quotes source). The insight we get into each Akiko’s, Noriaki’s and Takashi’s every day life is brief and candid but quite non-judgemental. What ensues after that curtain comes crashing down and what we make of the characters and the film as a whole, is for us to decide ourselves.
1 This is not to suggest that the other films I watched during the festival were ‘lesser’ – indeed, I often prefer the rawness of debut films of more inexperienced directors, which can often be intriguingly refreshing and original.
Overall verdict: As a slice-of-life drama Like Someone in Love offers an incomplete glimpse into the lives of three characters that are slowly unmasked to reveal individuals little deserving of any sympathy and, by extension, a candid, uncomfortable truth about humans.
- Official Presskit from Cannes Film Festival – lots of interesting information.
- Reviews from Screen Daily, New Yorker, Japan Times, Film School Rejects.
- The film title, Like Someone in Love, deserves some reflection as well. While it may be love the connects the characters, with their game of pretense (Akiko’s and Noriaki’s relationship that lacks honesty, Takashi’s purchasing of fake love, provided by Akiko who of course feels nothing for him) it is really only something like it and not the actual thing itself.