Following up on the Cannes success of his previous film – the award-winning, Juliette Binoche-starring Certified Copy (2010) – Iranian writer and director Abbas Kiarostami returns to the festival fray this year with Like Someone in Love (2012), his first film made in the sprawling Japanese capital of Tokyo. Featuring a largely unknown all-Japanese cast, Kiarostami’s latest is a languid, hushed affair, exploring the burgeoning relationship between young student/part-time escort Akiko (Rin Takanashi) and an elderly, grandfatherly client Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), with whom she forms an unlikely connection.
The film begins in a crowded Tokyo bar, as Akiko embarks on a drawn-out phone argument with her tempestuous, overly-protective boyfriend (Ryo Kase), as her concerned friend watches on. Sent out by her laissez-faire pimp to meet an important client (a politician, Akiko assumes), our protagonist melancholically listens to a series of answering machine messages left by her visiting grandmother, whom she has inexplicably declined to meet – one assumes out of shame at her profession.
Reaching her final destination, waiting for Akiko is not a lecherous head or high-powered business exec, but a gentle, kindly scholar who spends his days translating texts and drinking fine wine. Gradually, the two begin to break down the social awkwardness of their situation, with Takashi going as far as to grant his ‘purchase’ (whom he never propositions) a lift to college. Here, he is confronted by Akiko’s on-edge, on-off boyfriend, wisely deciding to assume the role of her caring grandfather.
One you’ve adjusted to the film’s intentionally languid pace, there is certainly time to appreciate the aesthetic craft and precision that Kiarostami has clearly poured into his inaugural far-eastern effort. Unfortunately, there is barely a thread of narrative to hang such sumptuous visuals upon, with a large majority of Like Someone in Love taken up by long, uncomfortable (or melancholic, depending on your own personal level of engagement) stretches in moving/stationary cars. With Tokyo at his mercy, the Iranian veteran cuts both his characters and his audience off from the surrounding metropolis.
To complement such a bold spatial restriction, strong performances become a vital necessity. Yet unfortunately, as with Like Someone in Love’s overarching narrative, too much is left inferred and unsaid, with little to be taken from any of the three central performances aside from quiet, stoic dignity. Somewhat surprisingly (given its ultra-steady tempo), a confrontational climax arrives – and departs – all too soon to satisfyingly round off Kiarostami’s largely unsatisfying Tokyo trinket.
The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.