Like Someone in Love

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Like Someone in Love
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a student at the university who supplements her income by working for an escort service that caters to giving the male clients what they want. She refuses her latest assignment with an old and respected client but her boss reminds her of her debts and insists she go on the “date.”. Her night as a working girl is about to change, though, when she discovers the man, Takishi (Tadashi Okuno), simply wants to chat and have dinner with her “Like Someone in Love.”

Robin:
The inspiration for Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in making “Like Someone in Love” lay in a nighttime drive on a visit to Japan when he saw a young woman in a wedding dress by the side of the road. The image stuck with the writer-director and he created the simple story of a young prostitute and an old scholar and their two-day relationship and makes it compelling. Nothing really happens (well, a couple of shocking moments do occur) but I always waited expectantly for what happens next. Something always does and here it is in the guise of Noriagi (Ryo Kase), supposedly Akiko’a fiancé, but definitely a man with a short fuse.

Kiarostami has had a tremendously eclectic career that has spanned over four decades as both director and writer (and many other hats, too). He has expanded to the international market (not just internationally-acclaimed) with his award-winning film from 2010, “Certified Copy,” which felt like a European filmmaker’s work. With “Like Someone in Love,” he makes a distinctly Japanese film with his quiet story of companionship, friendship, a grandfatherly/grand daughterly bond and the volatility and violence (personified by Noriagi) of youth.

When we first meet Akiko, it is in the bar that acts as the base for the escort service she works for. She obviously does not want to take her next assignment but debt and paying for college force her to comply – or else. During the hour-long taxi ride to her new client, she listens to her voice mail messages, all from her visiting-for-the-day grandmother who just wants to have dinner with her granddaughter. Akiko will not meet her grandma but has her driver circle the train station in case she can get a glimpse of her granny.

Things take a different turn when she arrives at the scholarly apartment of Takashi. She is prepared to go to bed with the much older man but it becomes apparent (to us, if not Akiko) that he simply wants to sit, listen to music, drink champagne, eat a special dinner he prepared for her (which she immediately rejects) and talk. That is all, just talk. Instead, she undresses, crawls into his bed and goes to sleep.

The next morning, the air is different and Takashi is suddenly acting like the grandfather and Akiko his granddaughter. And, like a good grandpa, he drives her to school. He promises to wait for her and watches as she goes onto the campus. There, a young man accosts her and Takashi hesitates to intervene. This is the point where things change for the three and “Like Someone in Love” is an intriguing character study of three very different people.

In a time, the doldrums of winter, when the multiplex is a dumping ground for Hollywood fodder (many of which begin with “inspired by true events”) it is an unexpected pleasure to see a quality slice of life story simply told and nicely acted. “Like Someone in Love” does not just play, it flows as the story changes and evolves right to the end. It is nice to see a well-crafted work. I give it a B.

Laura:
In a shadow-laden Tokyo cafe Akiko (Rin Takanashi) lies to her boyfriend over her cell phone and his response tells us a lot about their relationship.  When a man appears, he's not who we think he is but he's given the same excuse she just used with Noriaki (Ryo Kase, "Tokyo!," "Restless") to not accept the job he insists she should.  Hiroshi (Denden, "Cold Fish") deposits her in a taxi to see a very important client anyway, but that boyfriend's in pursuit "Like Someone in Love."

In his second movie filmed outside of Iran, writer/director Abbas Kiarostami ("The Wind Will Carry Us") has given us an Eastern counterpoint to his Western "Certified Copy" as once again he explores the nature of identity and the meaning of love.  Kiarostami spells nothing out for us, instead luring us with mysterious actions and conversations that may seem banal on the surface.

Akiko is insistent that she must see her grandmother who has unexpectedly arrived in Tokyo just for one day.  She's received several messages on a cell phone number which she's clearly disturbed her relative has gotten hold of.  On her way to Hiroshi's client, she listens to messages which begin that morning, indicating that the old woman has waited patiently all day at the train station. Akiko has the driver circle around and we see someone waiting, but they do not stop.

She arrives at an unpretentious location where her client, elderly professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno, "A Taxing Woman"), lives and works translating texts.  Akiko smoothly initiates conversation, admiring a painting on Takashi's wall which she says she had a copy of as a child and was told she looked like the subject.  Takashi has prepared a meal including a delicacy from Akiko's village.  She claims to dislike the dish and wanders into the bedroom, stripping off her clothes.  The next morning, Takashi drives Akiko to Tokyo University where she is to take an exam.  He witnesses an argument between her and a young man.  That young man approaches Takashi, waiting in his car, for a light, then climbs into the passenger seat.  Noriaki tells the old man, assuming this is Akiko's grandfather, than he is her fiance and is afraid of losing her.

Kiarostami is a master who keeps us engaged with the mystery of who these people are and why they are doing what they do.  Takashi's painting is Akiko's idealization of herself, whereas a picture, questioned by both her grandmother and Noriaki, reveals another side and only Takashi, the translator, appears able to reconcile the two.  Love (we hear the titular song playing softly in Takashi's apartment) too, has various incarnations  as represented in the spokes radiating from Akiko's hub.  Even a happenstance conversation between Akiko and Takashi's noisy neighbor (Mihoko Suzuki) defines different aspects of the strongest of human emotions.

Cinematographer Katsumi Yanagijima ("Battle Royale," "Outrage") creates mood and space with lighting that always favors Takanashi, whether in the back seat of a car cruising through the night or within the peachy, coppery confinement of Takashi's cozy abode.  Hiroshi is mostly kept inj shadow while Noriaki is only shown in the cold light of day.  Kiarostami's screenplay is full of revelations hiding in plain sight, which makes his final scene abrupt and jarring, at once too obvious and ambiguous.  And yet upon reflection, it may circle right back to Hiroshi's motivations for sending her to this 'false' grandparent who perhaps could offer what the real one could not.

B+
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