Set in Tokyo, we delve into the life of young student Akiko (Rin Takanashi), who, in a bid to make some extra cash on the side, has taken up prostitution. Though wanting to met her grandmother one evening, her boss has forced her to meet an important client, as she heads to the humble abode of the ageing author Takashi Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno). Expecting her typical custom, instead the widower merely wants a companion and someone to talk to, as the pair strike up the unlikeliest of friendships. However it’s a relationship threatened by the arrival of Akiko’s fiancé Noriaki (Ryo Kase).
Like Someone in Love is made up of just a handful of pensively shot sequences, as after half an hour we are effectively only entering into our third scene. As a result the picture feels almost hypnotic, allowing the viewer time to ponder over the situation, as what is a contemplative piece of cinema. Kiarostami ensures that the audience see everything. When Takashi heads out to collect Akiko in his car, we don’t just see him arrive at the scene, but we watch as gets ready to leave his house, get into his car and then slowly back out of his driveway. Such an naturalistic approach is important, as it allows Kiarostami the right to get dramatic in the latter stages and still feel entirely authentic, as the realism extends into the finale.
The picture is beautifully shot too, with some interesting framing decisions making for a hugely memorable production. At times we watch some scenes while focusing on just one half of the conversation, hearing monologues and discussion while the camera remains on just one character – and more often than not it’s the less active half of the conversation. One sequence is told through the lasting shot of Takashi sitting still, while we can barely make out Akiko in a blurred reflection behind him. There is another long shot where a tree slightly obscures your view. It’s decisions such as this which allow for this picture to stand alone as a creative and provocative feature film, and you can see exactly why it was considered for the Palme d’Or last year.
Meanwhile the performances are impressive too, as this modest sized cast all excel with their respective roles. Takanashi has an alluring screen presence, yet she is complete with a vulnerability that allows for us to see both the beauty and fragility of Akiko in equal measure, as we feel a closeness and affability towards her in much of the same way Takashi does, almost feeling protective of her. The pair have a great chemistry too, even more so than she shares with her fiancé Noriaki – who also turns in a fantastically moving performance.
As a French film with an Iranian director and an all Japanese cast, there is an inability in defining Like Someone in Love and attach it to one nation in particular – and such a notion is also true of the genre, as a film that feels unique and innovative – words that sadly aren’t uttered nearly enough in contemporary cinema.