Like Someone in Love
Losing to Japan
It’s easy to get swept up in the allure of Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema of modulated emotional power. Kiarostami milks contextual layers of his characters’ mutable objectives out of long dramatic sequences that catch you off guard. Nothing is taken for granted. Every surface directly supports each character’s inner and outer life. In one sequence, Kiarostami returns to his signature interior-automobile space as a semi-public-semi-private staging ground for an intimate socially inflected exchange of culturally divergent ideas.
The ex-patriot Iranian auteur of such gems as “Taste of Cherry” (1997) and “Certified Copy” (2010) has the beguiling ability to blend seamless exposition with subtle character revelations. Still, no filmmaker is above making errors of judgment. Kiarostami makes a big one here. A theatrically hamstrung narrative is abandoned by an ambiguous ending that leaves the audience feeling cheated rather than validated for sharing in the experience.
Set in modern day Tokyo, “Like Someone in Love” wants to be an indigenously Japanese social polemic about a young college-girl prostitute, her abusive loose-cannon boyfriend, and a mild retired college professor who hires the girl for a night — more out of loneliness than lust. The doddering old man has gone to the trouble of making a soup native to the region of Japan where the young prostitute is from. She doesn’t care. She didn't like the soup her grandmother made for her when she was a child. She just wants to sleep.
One axiom concerning minimalism states that a narrative subject needs to be richly, even over-informed, in order for the stripped-down skeletal structure to express the weight of an artist’s intended thematic implications. Picasso’s sketches are significant for what he purposefully left out. Bodies leap from the surface with expressive movement. “Like Someone in Love” weaves together thematic strands that it doesn’t bother to link thematically. No good.
To be fair, the film’s opening sequence is beautifully composed. Two girlfriends talk in a restaurant bar owned by their businessman pimp. The camera angle is low. The influence of Kiarostami’s auteur muse Yasujiro Ozu is firmly on display. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) — one of the film’s three interchangeable protagonists — doesn’t get a joke her friend tells her about two millipedes on their wedding night. Akiko is a naïve girl going wherever the world takes her. Exposition seeps out. Like Japan itself, a land of cramped and crowded spaces, the social setting is excruciatingly public. “No phones in the toilets,” her boss informs Akiko when she attempts to take her cellphone conversation with her to the bathroom. She fights on the phone with a boyfriend who “only causes her pain.” Her concerned boss advises her to “end it with the boy.” Unlike an average stereotyped pimp, he cares about Akiko as a person, perhaps as much as a family member. The pimp-whore relationship has a father-daughter quality.
Akiko’s assignment for the night is to entertain Watanabe Takashi (well played by Tadashi Okuno), a famous author, translator, and retired college instructor. Night turns to day. Takashi drives Akiko to college where she has a test. From his parked car Takeshi watches Akiko’s boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase) accost her on the stairs. Soon, Noriaki is seated inside the elderly Takashi’s car asking the man he believes to be Akikio’s benevolent grandfather for permission to marry Akiko. Takashi advises against it. The unpredictable Noriaki remains contrite, but his flashpoint temper will return.
Third-act failure is not what you’d expect from Abbas Kiarostami. Unfortunately the literal window that shatters to announce the film’s climax arrives without a necessary crisis decision that would finally identify the story’s protagonist, and deliver the characters and audience to a catharsis worthy of the drama that has come before.
Not Rated. 109 mins. (C-) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)Tweet
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