Acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, Like Someone in Love (2012), may be set and shot in Japan but it contains many of the auteur’s trademarks: long, single takes, conversational scenes in cars and images reflected in glass and mirrors. Most of Tokyo’s cityscape is framed through a car’s windscreen. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a young, high-class escort studying sociology at a local university. The film opens in a bar where she is trying to convince her boss not to make her work that night – her grandmother has come to visit her, she tells him. But he insists pointing out that the client is an important man.
Akiko sets off on an hour-long journey across Tokyo, the city’s vibrant streets reflected in the car’s windscreen, passing by the station where her grandmother has arranged to meet her. Akiko can see her patiently waiting beside the designated statue and, with tears in her eyes, she instructs the taxi to circle twice before continuing on their journey. Akiko’s client is something of a surprise. Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), an elderly, retired sociology professor has prepared dinner and has wine chilling in the fridge. ‘Like Someone in Love’, an Ella Fitzgerald song, plays in the background. Sexual liaisons seem furthest from his mind.
While he appears keen to talk, Akiko reveals her coquettish side, simpering and flirting with the bemused old man, before undressing and falling deeply asleep – alone – in his neatly-made bed. The next day Takashi drives her to university. While waiting outside, he meets Akiko’s volatile boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), a garage mechanic. Presuming that Takashi is Akiko’s grandfather, he climbs into the car and confides in him his desire to marry her. This case of mistaken identity provides the catalyst for change in Akiko’s life. Kiarostami plays with narrative conventions so that sometimes we learn more about his characters from what they don’t say. Takashi’s backstory is revealed by a nosey neighbour.
In a supremely theatrical monologue, delivered to Akiko, she hints about a daughter and granddaughter who no longer visit the old man. Through this character’s intervention, it becomes clear that Takashi desires a substitute for his grand-daughter. Similarly, though little is said, we realise Akiko craves the protection and guidance of a kindly grandfather. Briefly, through roleplay, they achieve a certain harmony, but this is cut short by Noriaki’s violent response.
Like Someone in Love opens in a busy bar, mid-conversation, and ends just as abruptly. Kiarostami reminds us of cinema’s parameters, his work is deliberately elliptical, and he provokes the viewer into co-creating the film’s narrative. As with so many of his films, his latest explores the boundaries between realism and fiction; the actors were not allowed to read the entire screenplay to the end and details of the day’s shoot would only be revealed the night before. Kiarostami’s inconclusive denouement encourages the audience to keep the story playing over in their minds long after the final credits roll.