Denial and delusion ripple the pristine visual surface of Like Someone in Love, Abbas Kiarostami’s masterful critique of social and emotional formality, set in Japan. The importance of perception cannot be understated here, since the film often buries its cutting ideology beneath a measured narrative pace interspersed with hypnotic silences. Whereas Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s previous cinematic riddle set outside his home country of Iran, splits the narrative midway through to accentuate the sudden fracturing of romantic love, Like Someone in Love waits until the bitter end to reveal its true nature. In this way, the film is far more disturbing and cagey than anything Kiarostami has done before, examining just how fragile public personas can be when pushed to the limits of control.
Tragic warning signs abound in Like Someone in Love, menacing clues hiding inside each polite glance and in the long conversations between subdued characters. In the film’s multi-layered opening shot, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) argues off-screen with her fiancé Noriaki (Ryo Kase) over the phone as patrons of a posh bar converse. Ambient sounds overlap with her words, blurring the lines of communication even further. The subject of the couple’s heated conversation is trust, or a lack thereof, and since we hear Akiko’s voice before we see her body, it’s clear Kiarostami is concerned with the patterns of verbal discourse and how they can hide our true intentions.
After Akiko hangs up the phone, her boss warns against being involved in such a volatile relationship, advising her to focus entirely on her job as a sex escort. Even though her profession is not necessarily reputable, the older man treats Akiko much like Noriaki does: as an object of formal pride he wants to entomb.
When Akiko is tasked with visiting a client outside of Tokyo, she debates whether or not she should to stop and see her grandmother, who’s left her phone messages while waiting all day for a visit.
Cruising the hyper-colored streets of Tokyo in a taxi, Akiko spots her grandmother underneath a statue outside the train station, her small frame dwarfed by the distance of the shot and the size of the monument. Akiko asks the driver to circle the roundabout once, then twice, obviously struggling to reconnect with her familial past. It’s a wonderfully staged sequence, in which POV advances her character, confirming that she is perpetually stifled by the requirements of formality.
When Akiko finally arrives at the quaint house of retired academic Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), she quickly becomes an emblem of formality for the respected man as well. One line of dialogue late in the film suggests that Takashi has suffered a terrible family trauma in the past, and his fatherly interactions with Akiko certainly suggest that he wants her to play the role of his surrogate daughter. This dynamic is eventually extended by Noriaki, a talented mechanic determined to make Akiko his wife. Noriaki’s obsession with formality is the most constricting of all, almost religious in nature.
Kiarostami plays with color and depth throughout, spraying green and blue hues across the urban frame, layering reflections so that many images feel infinitely realized. Even more so than Certified Copy, Kiarostami’s mise-en-scene attains a level of classiness that ultimately imbues the mostly subtext-laden set pieces with visual grace. The titular song adds an even richer dimension to the languishing and hazy mood in many interior scenes.
The characters of Like Someone In Love fortify their emotions by reinforcing the façades of love, independence, and family they so desperately want to protect. But one supporting character actually speaks truth. A former student of Takashi’s, whom he and Akiko meet while visiting Noriaki’s auto shop, confesses to his ex-teacher that “violence in society interests me.” The horrifying frankness of his statement, and the restrained way it is spoken, breaks Kiarostami’s mosaic of formality for a split second. No one takes these words seriously, and that becomes the key to unlocking Like Someone in Love’s core thesis.
Long dialogue-heavy car rides, sobering reflections, and protracted shot-reverse-shot segments comprise the film’s pulse, all vintage Kiarostami aesthetics that deflect the story’s subtle threads until the consequences of this collective refusal come crashing through the frame. Ultimately, Like Someone in Love assesses the way people (and societies) ignore their own destructive traditions over large gaps in time, bleeding the reserves of emotional infrastructure dry, one false-bottomed promise at a time.
Glenn Heath Jr. is a film critic for Slant Magazine, Not Coming to a Theater Near You, The L Magazine, and The House Next Door. Glenn is also a full-time Lecturer of Film Studies at Platt College and National University in San Diego, CA.