Kiarostami Baffles and Electrifies with his own Brand of Tokyo Story
Having morphed into a predictably unpredictable filmmaker so far in the 21st century, the extent to which Abbas Kiarostami’s new film Like Someone in Love defies categorization is startling, if not invigorating. Filming once again in an unfamiliar setting – this time Tokyo – the Iranian master has manufactured an avant-garde love story that feels entirely alien within his filmography, not to mention most of contemporary world cinema. Closest in essence to Certified Copy‘s yearning grasps at soured romance, this new mysterious object could perhaps be called a copy of that film – discrepancies, blips, surprises and all. With a lulling, intermittently blissful pace that evolves into a depraved beast over its running time, Kiarostami has shown that his second life in the spotlight will not be short-lived.
The free-form plot (a term that feel all-together insufficient) is set in motion in a nighttime café as Akiko (Rin Takanashi) has to deal with her angry fiancé Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who has found out that she isn’t where she told him she would be. Soon, she’s in a taxi pulling through the neon playground of nighttime Tokyo, listening to voicemail messages from her grandmother (one of two scenes that recalls Chantal Akerman’s diaristic essay News From Home). Then she’s at the home of adorable octogenarian professor Takashi (Takashi Okuno), apparently on duty as a whore. Eventually, relationships are faked, physical resemblances are noted, and a quasi-thriller ensues.
Throughout the running time, and despite the not-exactly-elliptical narrative drive, something feels totally awry. Similar to Copy’s vivacious trickery, characters’ motivations and a sense of who knows what maintain a conspicuous, impenetrable distance. A through-line hazily emerges halfway into the film when we learn that Akiko, who’s just taken a college exam in the very subject that Takashi specializes, botched a question asking about evolution and Darwin. ‘Survival of the fittest’ obviously being a key element to that theory, it becomes evident that the subject of the film is this protection – physical and emotional – that we rely on from loved ones. It’s a guard that we instinctively seek to both provide and have provided to us by others, and this is the essential absence in Takashi and Akiko’s lives at the moment they meet.
Culminating in a scene so heart-pounding and bizarrely intense that it feels like a waking nightmare (as opposed to the wistful dream of the first 100 minutes), Kiarostami shows that he is open to an evolution of his cinema as well as his narratives. Having vacated the esoteric crawl of the former half of the film for this more conventionally crafted and accessible style, it’s no wonder that it is this moment – which is also the moment that Takashi and Akiko become decidedly inadequate at helping one another – that he rudely awakens us with a bang, sending us back into the real world.
For all of its challenging and baffling elements, the film is markedly easy to get into because of the acting from all parties. Dialogue is of course in Japanese, but the language barrier doesn’t appear to have been an obstacle, with actions and emotions coming across with a piercing clarity. Lensed by Katsumi Yanagijima (Outrage), this somehow managed to improve on the luscious, glassy digital photography in Copy. Reflections on windshields merge exterior and interior spaces into distorted and surreal landscapes that are a wonder to behold. Not to be outdone, Reza Narimizadeh’s sound design also plays a starring role, capturing the languorous mood as well as the subtle breaths taken by Takashi as he takes a cat nap at the wheel in his car.
2012 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition