Director: Abbas Kiarostami Writers: Zeishan Quadri, Akhilesh, Sachin Ladia and Anurag Kashyap Starring: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Ryo Kase, and Denden. Runtime: 109 minutes NYFF 2012 Programme: Sundance Selects Release
What makes a Japanese film? Can someone other than a Japanese filmmaker create a Japanese film? Iranian-French director Abbas Kiarostami has done just that in his 2012 film, Like Someone in Love. The film had its international premiere at the Cannes Festival earlier this year, and was shown Thursday night at the New York Film Festival as a Sundance Selects release.
For Kiarostami – the Iranian New Wave film director who has won numerous prizes including the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1997 – it is both easy and difficult to make a film set in Japan and about real life Japanese human beings. During a Q&A session, Kiarostami said that he took one and a half years to find the couple that he based his protagonists on. The full Q&A can be found here.
Like Someone in Love takes viewers through a brief survey of two days in the life of its characters. Akiko (Rin Takanashi) is a young woman who came to Tokyo from the countryside for university, but dedicates much of her time in an escort service. She ends up making no time for her boyfriend, for her grandmother, and for the viewers. Her lame excuses cause Noriaki (Ryo Kase), her boyfriend, to become intensely jealous. The film, however, spends a lot of time on Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), a kind-hearted retired professor who pays for Akiko’s service but looks out for her as a parent.
The film is strangely effective. Okuno’s portrayal of the wise old professor was extremely believable. Noriaki’s pained expressions were subtle enough to be effective in building the mood. In one scene where the three main characters are trapped in a car, Takashi and Noriaki’s eyes faced the audience, and Akiko, who sat in the back seat, focused her attention on Takashi. The camera work must be applauded for using a shallow depth of field to blur Akiko’s face, which gave Takashi’s expressionless face an equal weight as Noriaki’s more intense expression of suppression.
Kiarostami does a great job with obscuring his audience’s views via mundane items like a tree trunk or a window pane, which would only cover about 1/6 of the screen, but irks the viewers enough to create tension. Throughout Akiko and Takashi’s ordeal where they get to know each other more and more, the audience toys with the idea that they may be related, or that they have had sexual intercourse — Neither of the two speculations were answered by the film. The objects that block our view only fuels our need to know just exactly what happened. Kiarostami turns his audience into curious voyeurs: We want to see, but we are ashamed of being so blatant in looking at regular people’s lives.
Yes, the characters were very normal: In one scene, Takashi falls asleep while driving, and the viewers wait for him to wake up, expecting something surprising to happen. No such thing. The old man opens his eyes, moves his car on with the traffic. It was the definition of melodrama. The film spends a lot of time on the road, in the car, where the characters’ faces are sometimes blended into reflections of the city on the windshield.
To be a Japanese film, however, something surprising usually happens. In the case of Like Someone in Love, director Kiarostami puts it at the very end. Basically, all of the tension that was pent up during the film was let out in a final big bang. To be honest, the ending came as a surprise to me, which is surprising in itself because the big bang was supposed to be the surprise. If you like quirky dramas that really explore human interaction and asks questions about the impact of films on its audiences, then perhaps Like Someone in Love is a good bet.