For the second feature outside his native Iran, filmmaker Abbas Kiraostami has delivered an inverse companion piece to Tuscany-set Certified Copy, which competed at Cannes in 2010 and has since remained permanently on the lips and year-end lists of critics and cinephiles. The Tokyo–set Like Someone in Love featured in last year’s competition, though its release and praise has been comparatively slow to spread. The film is the aftertaste to its predecessor’s flavoursome bite, a collation of ideas from the cutting-room floor retrieved and shaped into a similar, palatable concept.
Surface appearance and performance are thematic bread and butter to Kioarstami, who for his latest two films has honed in on the acute impersonation of relationships, first teasing the audience with Certified Copy’s central deception, and then inviting us onto his side of the curtain at the expense of a certain character in Like Someone in Love. That individual is young Noriaki (Ryō Kase), innocently fooled – for his own protection – that his girlfriend Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is being escorted around town by her grandfather Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), when in actual fact the elderly gentleman is a complete stranger, and it is she who has assumed the escort duties.
The playful spring-autumn relationship transpiring over the course of two days gradually blossoms into something open and organic, an idealised partnership borne of no expectations that handily supplants the thorny realities of real love. Naked emotions, defined in the eye of the beholder, can appear as ugly offensives, mistimed and off-target; such is the case with Noriaki, desperate to marry Akikio as if under the assumption that the officialdom will open up a full understanding of her being.
Kiraostami sets a number of his films inside of a car – Taste of Cherry and Ten are the standouts here – and Tokyo, a vast metropolis sprawling with machines both on and off the sidewalk, gives this insular yet intruded-upon environs a searing new context. Each vehicle is a fragment of a larger stream, whist helpfully serving as an extension of presence of the person at the wheel, isolated within their own mechanical sphere and communicating to each other from behind their own window frame (another motif in the film).
In a ten-minute sequence that sees Akiko transported by taxi to Takashi’s house, we see a two-shot in flux; the ever-moving litany of neon city lights, every colour of the rainbow flaring intensely, across from the understated expression of Akiko in the back seat, the lights’ reflection on the glass painting her face with traces of radiant beams. Throughout all this, the sounds of seven answerphone messages travel through her earphones, most of them from her grandmother, the quaint little voice juxtaposing an innocent imagining of Akiko’s life against the overwhelming reality of her current situation.
Akiko spots her grandmother waiting against a statue in the far distance; she peers through the window for a better glimpse, but this distant, comforting visual kernel is quickly swallowed up by the obstructing onslaught of busy bodies bustling their way through the city streets. The entire sequence is a sublime, patient piece of world-building from a masterful hand, and it’s undoubtedly the highlight from which the rest of the film attempts and fails to supersede.
Once the play-acting between Akiko and Takashi begins in earnest, a forceful symmetry is birthed alongside. He’s a student, she’s a teacher. She’s inundated with answerphone messages; he’s forever attending to a ringing phone. While her boyfriend wishes to marry for control of her desires, Takashi himself has a neighbour who longs for his dependence. “Nowadays people don’t visit the elderly,” the neighbour adds, embarking on Ozu territory.
Indeed, the comparisons with Ozu are unavoidable, being that this is a Japanese tale focused on two generations navigating the particulars of a partnership, in addition to the modern precedence of pressing business demands over personal relationships. But Kiarostami and Ozu work in two entirely separate modes, and in the moment that Akiko enters Takashi’s apartment to initiate the film’s illusory infrastructure, things get cosy.
Certified Copy was this film’s mirror-image, a beguiling mystery supplemented by a reinforcing mise-en-scene. Whereas that film sported jagged edges like an unsolved Rubix cube, its follow-up arrives bordered in smooth contours, a fully-formed object ready to admire. Like Someone in Love isn’t Kiorastami’s best or most demanding effort, but it contains extended moments of hard-focused, assured filmmaking – solid parts of a partially satisfying whole.