Like Someone in Love
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s first Japanese film, Like Someone in Love, is beautifully, gracefully sad. It is also mysterious, not giving up its secrets easily. The story’s distressingly abrupt ending comes as a shock after a long, languorous buildup, and the resulting confusion points to the idea that we’ve missed something important.
For the most part we follow a young call-girl working her way through university in Tokyo. Akiko (Takanashi Rin) is already exhausted from her school schedule and mortified by the news that her grandmother has dropped into town to visit, only to find an ad for Akiko’s services up in the phone booth. Thankfully her grandmother is sure that the girl only looks like Akiko, but it’s the first sign of a disconnection between the older and younger generations, echoing Ozu Yasujirō’s Tokyo Story.
Akiko does want to meet up with her grandmother for dinner, but her manager — “pimp” seems too sordid for what seems to be a drearily businesslike relationship — insists that she instead visit a very important customer in a suburb an hour outside of the city. When she arrives she finds a retired professor of sociology, Takashi (Okuno Tadashi). Another disconnection: she proceeds swiftly to the bedroom; he seems to want conversation and companionship more than sex, pouring champagne and preparing a traditional soup from the region she grew up in.
The next day — it’s not clear if they did more than sleep — Takashi drives Akiko back to her school, where they encounter her jealous boyfriend, Noriaki (Kase Ryō), who mistakes Takashi for Akiko’s grandfather. Akiko is nervous that Noriaki will get angry, but Takashi assures her that everything will work out all right in the end.
The action plays out slowly, but without dragging. The audience is lulled into a clear, pleasant reverie that ever-so-slightly begins to go awry. Surprises that don’t seem to fit into the flow crop up. The most glaring of these is Takashi’s neighbor who shows up and launches into an extended monologue almost out of nowhere, and with little clear point. And the conclusion itself strikes a harsh and dissonant chord aganst the rest of the film’s calm melody. That these bizarre turns intentional seems clear, but Kiarostami’s intentions are less so.
There may be a key. During the conversation at Takashi’s apartment our attention is drawn to a print of Yazaki Chiyoji’s painting “Training a Parrot”, depicting a traditionally-dressed young woman in conversation with a white bird. Yazaki left his native Japan to study other forms, and while the subject is traditionally Japanese, the style of the painting is decidedly Western. Despite the Japanese style and the allusions to recognized and respected works of Japanese cinema, it may be that Kiarostami has brought a story from his homeland on the road with him.
Unfortunately I do not share his frame of reference, and as it stands the task of decoding Like Someone in Love is beyond me. But it is clear on the surface that this is the work of a master filmmaker, even if understanding escapes us for now.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.