Review: Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone in Love (2012) Shines Through Sheer Simplicity

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Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a sociology student in Tokyo. She’s kind of going through a rough patch with her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryō Kase) who is ridiculously jealous and suspicious of where she hangs out at night. If only he knew that she was a prostitute. One night Akiko is practically forced by her pimp to go to a client a little bit outside of the city. If only Watanabe Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), the old professor requesting Akiko’s services, knew what trouble he’d get in when he let her into his home. 

Like Someone in Love (original titleライク・サムワン・イン・ラブ, Raiku Samuwan In Rabu) is a French produced Japanese language film directed by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. The film is about loneliness, human relationships and societal perception of prostitution in Japan. Let’s start with the loneliness. Takashi is a lonely old man. His wife died years ago. He orders a prostitute, but you never get the feeling that it’s for sex, but rather because he wants to have someone to talk to. He prepares dinner for her, he drives her around, but he never even touches her.

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It’s pretty clear that what Takashi is missing is a family, someone who will keep him company. People only seem to call him when they need help, meanwhile his next door neighbor is secretly “in love” with him, but he doesn’t notice. Maybe he has lost hope of having a “normal” relationship with a woman after the death of his wife. Akiko on the other hand is struggling to keep her boyfriend in the dark about her job. He would be really angry if he found out. She knows that. The fact that she’s lying by omission creates a problematic situation of mistrust between them.

Noriaki suspects that she might be a prostitute, but he doesn’t want to believe that she is, until the hard facts are thrown in his face and he can’t chose to ignore it any longer. While Noriaki’s anger is clearly justified, he comes off as the only negative character in the film (expect for maybe Akiko’s pimp). He is shown as irrational, hotheaded and homicidal even. He is seriously scary and it doesn’t really matter that he technically has every right to be pissed. What he’s really lacking though is empathy, he doesn’t really understand Akiko.

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He wants his girlfriend to fit his own idea of what a woman should be. He sees himself as her protector and feels entitled to know everything that she’s doing at all times. He wants to marry her, but only to exert more control and authority of her. Clearly their relationship would be unhealthy even if Akiko wasn’t a prostitute. Takashi calls Noriaki out on this, which of course is easier for someone observing from the outside. For a while it seems that Noriaki has learned a lesson, but of course in a matter of minutes he’s back to his misogynistic self.

As I mentioned the film is also about prostitution. While there is no sex or nudity in this film or even sex-related dialogue, Kiarostami still manages to make a point of showing how negatively prostitution is perceived in Japanese society. The impression I get is that while many men have sex with prostitutes, they view the prostitutes themselves as lesser women. They accept their existence because it fulfills their sexual needs, but as soon as they’re not enjoying their services shame takes over and they distance themselves from them.

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Takashi doesn’t want anyone to find out he’s having a prostitute over. What would people think of him? Even though he doesn’t necessarily see anything wrong with it, he’s still worried about how society might perceive it. And he’s a sociology professor. Akiko’s grandmother is worried for her granddaughter as well. By the way, that’s another lonely elderly character, which reminds me a little bit of Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953), another film about lonely old people set in Tokyo, which clearly inspired Kiarostami.

Stylistically, Like Someone in Love takes a very naturalistic, cinéma vérité approach. Most of the scenes are rather long and play out in real-time, giving the film a slow, but incredibly immersive pacing. The only music we hear in this film is the music the characters are listening to themselves. While a lot of the times the camera is static and not moving for an extended period of time this only helps you focus on what’s essential: The characters. It’s not even necessarily about what the characters are saying, but their faces.

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All three main actors give splendid performances. I especially liked Tadashi Okuno. Playing an elderly character with pathos, but without winking at the audience “Hey, I’m actually younger than this guy, but this make up looks good right?”. I like that he’s old, but very smart, physically limited by his age, but intellectually still fresh. Younger people ask him for advice. He’s still working and has a lot of life experience, which sounds cliché, but the way Kiarostami writes him is just perfect and very believable.

What stays with you with a film like this one is the way it makes you feel. It’s very realistic. There’s a sense of irony throughout. I’m not a fan of how it ends necessarily, but it makes sense. I like that this is a rather quiet film, but it’s still trying to convey something and it does so in a very simple way. Kiarostami makes everything seem so easy. This film looks good, but effortlessly so (God bless director of photography Katsumi Yanagishima), just like Akiko who just seems to be a delightful young woman without even trying.

7.5 out of 10

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One comment

  1. Pingback: May 2014 Favourites | FILM GRIMOIRE

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