Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno and Ryo Kase
A great admirer of the work of this brilliant Iranian director that I am, it was quite a letdown when I couldn't find the same sense of wonder in his recent effort. I haven't seen many films from him but I admire his unique style of filmmaking and how he makes it all work, it all fascinates me. The greatest filmmaker from Iran no doubt, his work in "Certified Copy" which was his previous film, was beyond excellence. So you can understand my disappointment when his latest feature didn't do much for me. It is though quite amazing how he is making his films outside of his country, like touring the world and exploring the people there through his keen eye for dramatics within the boundaries of identity that separates each of us. His entire filmography features films about identity, existential exploration and sociological norms that are all done via long shots of people talking. His films are spellbinding, no one makes them like he does. Kiarostami took his vision to Japan this time, the actors are all Japanese in it as well. Like Someone in Love is a film that doesn't do much when it is unraveling in front of your eyes. But it is after you see it that you feel like there is something more to it. It begins with an extended shot in a bar where we meet the main character, Akiko (Takanashi). She is a sociology student but works as a prostitute during the nights. Akiko is clearly not happy with what she does but she has to. We see that her pimp assigns her to Takashi (Okuno), who is an elderly former university professor who still works but at his home. Akiko doesn't want to go because her grandmother is visiting the city to meet her. Those static camera shots and fluidly happening conversations gives an unease. It is not that you feel like something horrible is about to happen but that you don't know these people at all. They are all mysterious figures that one feels the end to explore and understand more about. You are compelled to find out as much as you can about them. Akiko has to accept the job and she visits the old man's house which is outside the city. Takashi as it turns out is more interested in talking to her than having sex. He spends every single minute of the time trying to make her feel comfortable and engage her in conversations. It is as if he is nurturing her, trying to give her all that she needs like a father figure. From dinner to a good night sleep and from driving her to college for test to meeting and giving useful advices to her overbearing fiance.
Akiko's fiance, Noriaki (Kase), is unaware of what Akiko does for a living. However he is suspicious that she might be seeing someone else. He is quite frankly, jealous and demanding. He feels like he can control her life or that he owns her. The level of ambiguity that is there in this film and among these characters will frustrate many. The tone and pacing of this film is quite slow, thus further putting you off. Despite the fact that I consider this film as minor Kiarostami, there is still enough mastery that will offer a rewarding experience on technical and artistic terms. The more you try to make a sense of it, the more you end up being further pushed away and doubtful. Like Someone in Love is an extension of the usual style and themes but nothing in this film ever breathes freely. The conversations that happen between Akiko and Takashi are very natural. Kiarostami lets them go on in such a way, like in real time. About the character of Takashi, he is a very wise person from what we see. An avid reader, he knows so much about everything and always shares his knowledge. Akiko's pimp considers him a great person and an important client so I guess he does that very often. Though he himself isn't a bad person, you look for why he actually does that. Takashi is very old, almost the age of Akiko's grandfather. No wonder why her fiance confused him for that. Most of the time, he would talk about his family, wife and Akiko herself. He is interested in knowing about her even though she never gives straight answers. He remains calm and composed, far from impatient and abusive person one might think. Because he never wants sex, nor does he wants the girl. Takashi is completely lonely, nobody is there to sit down with him and socialize. Maybe that is why he does what he does. It is easier to buy love, pleasure and company these days you see. It is understandable why he pays girls like her for their time. He gets the pleasure out of their company. He praises her beauty but never in the obvious or forward manner. Like that whole talk about Akiko resembling his wife etc.
Then of course when Noriaki mistakes him for Akiko's granddaughter, he goes along with it. He protects her like somebody he knows and care about. He protects her secret and dignity, a strange relationship is formed. This particular thing worked so great in 'Certified Copy' which is much deeper, more complex and an astounding work of art. Takashi advices against Noriaki's obsession with controlling Akiko's life. He talks to him about what love, marriage and relationships actually are in very genuine and convincing way. To me, Takashi's character comes off as the most strongest one. A largely sincere and effortless performance given by Tadashi Okuno. Takashi knows how to change himself for others, meet the requirements and perceptions of the other person in the 'relationship'. While in return, he himself gets rewarded with their company and presence. Like in life... like in relationships... like someone in love! Don't we change ourselves or are expected to do so on some extent? Identity remains intact but you can control the change. In order to succeed in life and meet with other's expectations, you have to let go of yourself for a while. Rin Takanashi's Akiko is not vague enough but never truly someone given much of an insight in this film. Her part somehow gets sidelined after the first half, the turns in the second half for her never feels compelling. But there is enough you learn about her to not entirely dislike the lack of development. On paper, Akiko is no different from Takashi at all. Life has led her on this road. She is all alone as well, the one person that is there in her life doesn't love her the way he should. Both these characters search for the common ground within each other. Rin Takanashi's performance isn't quite good but her portrayal is somewhat sympathetic. Ryo Kase is fairly nice in his appearances. The most painfully emotional sequence in the film comes when Akiko is on her way to Takashi's house. She spots her grandmother at a square who is obviously waiting for her. That taxi, which has to take her to Takashi is what separates her. She can't get out but wants to see a glimpse of her. The taxi is told by her to go around for a while, it is so heartbreaking. She watches from a distance, can't reach out even if she wants to. One of the most brilliant movie moments right there, just wish the rest of the film was as involving and bare.
Kiarostami shows things from a distance when it comes to the characters. Glasses, mirrors, reflections, windows, shades, doors etc separates them from each other. Like Someone in Love is beautifully shot. The sequences of car rides specially, there is a mysterious quality to them. The ideas are definitely there in this film but Kiarostami never finds the ground where they can all come together. The visual, thematic and symbolic importance of this film never hits you in a way they should. It is only later that your mind makes it all piece together. The exercise thus remains and exercise, you never truly sweat but end up with a fatigue the day after. The ending of this film is very sudden. You don't know what actually happens and why but it does. Abrupt ending leaves you further feeling at loss. Like Someone in Love isn't a great film but with all its positives, still a good enough experience. Beguiling little film, don't expect too much from it.