A Very Ordinary Japanese Drama
- Like Someone in Love review by MN
I think one of the things we don’t like to admit about film-makers, is that the older they get, the worse their films tend to be. Not an authority on the matter but Quentin Tarantino famously said as much, and while it’s not true in all cases, it is in a lot. Far be it from me to put forward an ominous conclusion right off the bat, but the reputation of Abbas Kiarostami – the Iranian film-maker who once made fantastic films like A Taste of Cherry, and Close-up – is in a bit of a slump. Judging from his last two efforts: Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love, he’s become more inclined to follow the less interesting parts of human relationships, rather than command our full attention.
The film follows the exploits of Akiko, a sociology student living in Tokyo who moonlights as a high-end call-girl. Her fiancee is suspicious but unaware and for the past several years, she’s been servicing the needs of wealthy individuals. One night, she’s assigned to Takashi Watanabe, an elderly University professor - conveniently an expert in Sociology, her own subject of choice. But he's more interested in making her dinner than succumbing to the pleasures of the flesh, and the two strike up a friendship which is marred by the introduction of Noriaki -- Akiko’s boyfriend, a garage mechanic who thinks Takashi is Akiko’s grandfather.
Above all, Like Someone in Love is a film about strange relationships, marked by coincidence and ordinary human deception. Akiko represents this best of all, splitting herself between two personalities: one known by Takashi, and the other known by Noriaki. Initially separate, these collide and the film's main conundrum (Akiko's secret life) comes forth: a problem which shifts a radically sombre first-half to something more anxiety inducing later on. Watching on the side, we’re presented with an uneasy (and voyeuristic) level of elevation: a over sense of knowledge that makes us constantly wonder when the truth about Akiko’s secret life will finally reveal itself.
This is cemented by a long scene mid-way through the film where Watanabe drops Akiko off at school. Waiting for her because she turned her phone off the previous night, Takashi is introduced to Watanabe. The two strike up a kinship marked by nothing more ordinary than a bold lie. Further coincidence ensures that Noriaki eventually finds out the truth, and the slow presentation of drama takes on a new form resulting in a final stretch that culminates in Noriaki’s intense anger. In the mean time, Kiarostami’s scenes are made long and drawn; like Korean film-maker, Hong Sang Soo, they linger and ask nothing more than acceptance of realism. In fact, the story is really so unremarkable that it becomes remarkable simply through its presentation on film. Kiarostami avoids cliche and one-dimensional characters, and his off-hand style ensures that a rational reaction is prized over an emotional one.
Potentially not, although I'm sure dyed-in-the-wool Kiarostami fans will get something out of it. If you're looking for a contemporary Kiarostami then I'd suggest renting Certified Copy over this one. I don't know why, but I expected to see more of Japan's seedy underworld - it's definitely not that kind of film.
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