After delighting us with “Certified Copy”(2010), Abbas Kiarostami enjoys himself again in his latest film “Like Someone in Love”. While it looks like a plain, exemplary Japanese film made with the local actors and crew on the surface, his own natural approach and his constant themes can be easily recognized as it observes a rather indecent and unstable human relationship at the center of the story(while it was produced by the French production company, several Iranian collaborators of his also participated in the production), and the movie is playful even when the mood surrounding its characters becomes more serious and suspenseful because of their small lies for handling their problematic circumstance.
Its opening scene feels a bit confusing at first because of its odd, subtle camera angle. We listen to a phone conversation at some bar in Tokyo, but, while the camera are clearly watching the people at the bar at its fixed position at the same time, we do not see anyone having conversation on the phone. As we keep looking around the scene, one girl at the right corner approaches to the camera, and then we realize that we are seeing the bar through the viewpoint of Akiko(Rin Takanashi), who is having a personal talk with her current boyfriend Noriaki(Ryo Kase).
As this scene continues, it is revealed that Akiko and her friend Nagisa(Reiko Mori) are college girls who also do a part-time job as the call girls for older guys. The movie does not say much about what exactly they do for their clients, but it goes without saying that Akiko’s part-time job is something she wants to hide from Noriaki, a possessive guy who is very suspicious about what his girlfriend does during late nights despite his love toward to her.
After barely fending off his suspicion with lies, she receives another work to do from her manager Hiroshi(Denden). She is tired due to her study for the exam in the next morning, and her grandmother wants to see Akiko right now before she goes back to Akiko’s rural hometown, but Hiroshi is quite persuasive; he gives her some thoughtful professional advices like a caring uncle, and then he gradually induces her to accept his demand although she remains pretty reluctant even at the end of their conversation.
As the camera looking at Akiko in the taxi taking her to the client, the movie surrounds her with that alien atmosphere of the downtown of Tokyo, and the feeling of isolation and alienation is palpable on Takanashi’s tired face although we do not know a lot about her current life. Her grandmother frequently called today because she really wanted to see her granddaughter, but it is implied that the grandmother may have guessed about how Akiko manages to earn her living while studying alone in Tokyo, and that is probably why Akiko chooses not to meet her grandmother during a quietly bitter moment.
After sleeping for a while in the taxi, Akiko meets her client. Takashi(Tadashi Okuno) is an aging retired sociology professor, and he courteously takes her to his comfortable and sophisticated residence filled with many books. Whatever they are supposed to do as a call girl and her client, Akiko is too exhausted for doing anything with a man who is old enough to be her grandfather, and Takashi comes to spend a rather uneventful night although he enjoys her company. From his gentle and tentative behaviors, we see a man who has probably experienced a fair share of disappointment with women; he is not so annoyed when the night does not go well as planned, and he just accepts what happened, though I am not sure about what exactly happened during that night.
On the next day, he takes her to her college early in the morning, and that is where their trouble begins. Noriaki happens to be in the campus to see his girlfriend, and he sees Takashi bringing her to the campus by his car. He assumes Takashi is her grandfather, and Takashi lets Noriaki assume like that for avoiding trouble, and Akiko has no choice but to go along with his lie while lying more to her boyfriend.
While there is a certain degree of suspense as these characters keep interacting with each other, the movie has a wry fun with the deceptions and ironies around them. While covering his identity, Takashi finds himself unexpectedly assuming the role of an advising mentor to Noriaki as Akiko’s ‘grandfather’, and his every word to Noriaki feels sincere while they have a private talk on Noriaki’s personal difficulty with Akiko – but we and he know well that their conversation will turn into nothing once the cover is blown.
We also see something is developing between Akiko and Takashi. Takashi’s busybody neighbor, who carried a torch for him in the past, mistakes Akiko for his granddaughter, and neither Takashi nor Akiko corrects that misunderstanding. While watching this, I was reminded of that ambiguously interesting development between the two main characters in “Certified Copy”(2010). They look like playing a couple at first, but they increasingly look like a real couple as their ‘play’ goes on, and we even come to wonder whether they are a real couple from the beginning as their real/copied emotions are presented on the screen.
In case of “Like Someone in Love”, its main matter is relatively less ambiguous, but it is also an equally interesting role-playing drama. Akiko’s relationship with Tadashi feels more intimate compared to her real but problematic personal relationships, but that does not change the fact that their relationship is basically impersonal from the beginning. Sure, they can be like a genial grandpa and his pretty granddaughter, but they are still an employee and a client none the less – and he may eventually do what is certainly not licensed to grandfather and his granddaughter.
The movie maintains its light approach even when it goes through the inevitable point we saw right from their first lie, and the director/writer Abbas Kiarostami pulled out good natural performances from the two lead performers under his improvised direction(the actors were not prepared with the screenplay even when they were about to act in their scenes). They are so good that sometimes they do not need the dialogues for implying what their characters probably feel and think, and Ryo Kase also deserves to be mentioned for his supporting performance which is the major source of tension in the story; his character is not an innocent jerk but he is instead a volatile, narrow-minded asshole, and you may wonder sometimes why Akiko has not left this unpleasant guy yet(is it some sort of masochistic punishment on her guilt, I wonder?).
After making several critically acclaimed films in Iran, Kiarostami took an unexpected direction with “Certified Copy”, and he continues his unusual trend with “Like Someone in Love”. According to him, he got the idea for it during his visit to Japan during the late 1990s, but it had been put aside until he finally got a chance to develop it into the movie after his success with “Certified Copy”. The result is another fascinating work from an old master enjoying the new freedom which comes late in his career, and I am particularly amused by a simple but literally shattering stroke in the end; after all, they had it coming from the beginning, didn’t they?