Film director Abbas Kiarostami made his first film outside his native Iran a few years ago, the puzzling, rewarding Copie conforme. From that movie's setting in Tuscany, with European actors speaking dialogue in French, Italian, and English, Kiarostami has gone to Japan for his latest film, Like Someone in Love. Written and directed by Kiarostami, the film was shot in Japan and the dialogue translated into Japanese (uncredited, perhaps the work of the actors, none of whom is likely familiar to non-Japanese viewers). While Copie conforme appealed to me as an "ambulatory philosophy film," mostly featuring its two stars driving, walking, and talking in squares and cafés, Like Someone in Love is noteworthy for its grand and often immobile silences. The dialogue is laconic, often trivial, and most of what is actually going on between the characters, or happening to them individually, goes unsaid or is learned obliquely. The three main characters are all tormented in different ways, but who knows exactly how, which probably has something to do with the film's critical failure at the Cannes Festival last year.
Akiko (Rin Takahashi) is a young woman from the provinces, now a college student in Tokyo, whose family has become worried about what might have become of her in the big city. They are right to be concerned, since Akiko has become involved with an overly possessive boyfriend (Ryō Kase), a mechanic who wants to marry her. What neither the boyfriend nor her family understand just yet is that Akiko has resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. In the first scene her pimp sends her in a cab outside the city to the house of Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a retired professor of sociology, the subject that Akiko is studying at the university. This précis gives away almost nothing that happens in Like Someone in Love, not that all that much does happen. The film's title is taken from the jazz standard by Jimmy van Heusen (lyrics by Johnny Burke), made famous by Ella Fitzgerald, among others, music that the professor likes to play at home. Love makes people do strange things, but it is difficult to guess which of the three principals in this story is the "someone in love," who walks "as though I had wings, bump into things": the jealous, abusive boyfriend, the elderly john, or the seemingly hapless young woman.
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It is also hard to discern an overarching theme in the movie, although on some level it may be about a culture that traditionally revered its elders gradually losing touch with its elders. The most moving scene in the film, by far, involves Akiko listening to messages left on her cell phone by her grandmother, who has come to Tokyo to check on her. I am on the way there, I am at the train station, I am waiting at such and such a place, I am going to get some noodles, maybe I will see you -- the messages go on. Visibly plagued by guilt, Akiko asks her cab driver to circle by the train station, but she does not stop. In a way, her elderly client takes the place of the grandmother, and for his part, Takashi seems to be just as cut off from the younger generation. Although most of their interaction is extremely awkward, Akiko and Takashi discuss a reproduction of a painting by Chiyoji Yazaki (1872-1947) hanging on his wall: Training a Parrot, from 1900, in the collection of the Geidai Museum (University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts). It is, Takashi says, the first Japanese painting made in a European style, and the fading of Japanese traditions implied by that shift, in the years after Japan was reopened to the outside world, weighs heavily in the film's inter-generational conflict. Whether it is enough to keep your attention will vary according to the viewer.
This film is currently playing at Landmark's E Street Cinema.