The Things I Do Astound Me: Kiarostami Does Tokyo
Following his Tuscany set 2010 success, Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami extends his global presence outside of Iran with Like Someone In Love, a confoundingly calibrated Tokyo exercise, so named for the jazz standard, the vocal talents of Ella Fitzgerald utilized here. Despite its location, Kiarostami’s signature motifs and visual compositions abound in this tale of mistaken identities, miscommunication, and notions of unrequited desirous affections. However, what begins as an intriguing pursuit concerning the nature of love and artifice slowly gives way to a tension filled atmosphere of foreboding, culminating in an unsatisfying and abrupt finale.
Beginning in a noisy bar, we hear a plaintive voice in the midst of a painstaking conversation. As our eyes adjust to the figures before us, we realize the voice is coming from off screen, and belongs to the pouty and passive Akiko (Rin Takanashi). She’s attempting to assuage her extremely jealous boyfriend, Noriyaki (Ryo Kase) lying that she’s out to dinner with a female friend, and she has a woman from a nearby pose as said friend on the phone. Akiko, it turns out, is a student that works as an escort girl on the side, which doesn’t justify but certainly explains Noriyaki’s insistence on making Akiko count the tiles in the bathroom so he can go check out the restaurant later.
Akiko’s irritated pimp, Hiroshi (Denden, of Shion Sono’s Cold Fish) is sending her on a special appointment to a man he deeply respects, and overrides Akiko’s refusal to go, as she claims she has an important exam in the morning, plus her grandmother has visited unexpectedly from the countryside, and keeps calling with the hopes that her granddaughter will pick up the phone. After a rather long taxi ride, and the film’s most melancholic moment where the taxi loops around the grandmother, endlessly waiting for Akiko to pop up to say hello before her train arrives, finally she ends up at the home of an elderly sociologist, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) a retired teacher that still writes novels and remains an expert translator. While Akiko falls asleep before they can seemingly engage in what she was hired to do, Tadashi drives Akiko back to the city in the morning so she can take her exam, with the plan that afterward, they will run errands together. On the way, Akiko explains her troubled relationship with Noriyaki, who happens to be waiting at her university to find out where she was the night before, resulting in her boyfriend meeting her client. However, Noriyaki assumes Tadashi is Akiko’s grandfather, and so a case of mistaken identity plays out amongst the three of them, which begins to take a serious turn as their time together progresses.
Kiarostami’s interest in sequences shot from within and outside moving vehicles is on center stage throughout a majority of Like Someone In Love, including the film’s most perfectly realized sequence where Akiko asks the taxi driver to circle round once more so she can see her grandmother, patiently waiting while her granddaughter works as a call girl. The neglect of relatives and the elderly also pops up in a sequence involving Tadashi’s nosy neighbor, recalling the cinema of Ozu, though Like Someone In Love ends up feeling a bit more cold hearted than something like Tokyo Story. And recalling Kiarostami’s classic Close-Up, identity is the slippery motif at the heart of the tale here, colliding once again with the arts. Here, a rather lengthy conversation is devoted to a painting in Tadashi’s home, titled “Taming a Parrot,” from 1900. In her youth, Akiko had been told she resembled the young woman in the portrait, and puts her hair in a bun to prove the resemblance. The two discuss interpretations of the photo as Akiko had always saw the portrait as showing the parrot to be teaching the woman something, not the other way round. She then goes on to point out her resemblance to a photograph of Tadashi’s deceased wife (whom the neighbor lady later recalls as her victor in the pursuit of Tadashi’s romantic interests). Vantage point is everything in Like Someone In Love, a constantly rippling narrative that splashes us then wavers incessantly, depending on how we’re looking at it. Reflections in mirrors and other surfaces, positioned from inside or outside a shot are all circumstances that skew interpretation.
Each character has clues of information hidden from others, all able to detect problems they’re unable to see in themselves, from Tadashi’s advice to the young lovers on their troubled relationship (not to mention his ‘emergency’ translation sequence upon first meeting Akiko) to Noriyaki’s diagnosis of a problem with Tadashi’s car. Things are wrong with us that only others can help us figure out. A playfully intelligent feature, Like Someone In Love is certainly an enjoyable film, especially for those that are fans of Kiarostami’s work, as this certainly embodies his aesthetic, yet represents a change of pace in many ways, the most evident being the rather cryptic conclusion that will leave you hot or cold. But just as Tadashi sings to Akiko, “Que, Sera Sera,” we too should take the cue that whatever will be, will be.