comscore Jarring end mars well-shot story of identity | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Jarring end mars well-shot story of identity

    Courtesy Eurospace Akiko (Rin Takanashi) works her way through college as a prostitute in Abbas Kiarostami's "Like Someone in Love."

With its minimalist style and simple but highly resonant story, "Like Someone in Love" is recognizably the work of Iranian master filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami. Unlike most of his other films, however, this tale of role-playing and mistaken identity withholds the resources to solve it — it remains a handsome enigma.

Set in Tokyo, the story centers on Akiko (Rin Takanashi), an impassive young woman working her way through college as a prostitute.

The film opens in a bar, where Akiko, after lying to her jealous boyfriend on the phone, is sent by her pimp on what he considers a special assignment.

She accepts the job, though it means snubbing her grandmother, who’s in town for a short visit. During the long taxi ride to the john’s house (the director is famous for extended scenes taking place inside cars), Akiko listens to a series of affecting phone messages from the old lady.

Not rated
Opens today at Kahala 8

The customer turns out to be an elderly retired professor (Tadashi Okuno) who has prepared dinner for her and seems more interested in conversation than sex. She tries to lure him into bed, but she falls asleep before anything can happen.

The next day, he drives her to school, where she’s accosted by the boyfriend (Ryo Kase), who winds up sitting in the car and talking with the professor, mistaking him for Akiko’s grandfather.

Neither the professor nor Akiko clues him in, and the professor, who seems to genuinely like Akiko, warms to the grandfatherly role.

The upshot of this masquerade makes up the rest of the film, which ends with a shocker so abrupt that it reportedly drew (unintended) laughter and boos at Cannes. Fair warning. But that reaction overlooks the film’s genuine merits.

The opening is a virtuoso segment in which we see a long shot of the bar and hear Akiko talking at length before she is revealed visually. Almost as impressive is the nighttime taxi ride where, from outside the vehicle, we are shown not only her face as she listens to her granny’s pleas, but also reflections of passing lights and stores that serve as running commentary.

The Japanese setting is a departure for Kiarostami, as was his previous feature, 2010’s "Certified Copy" (which took place in Tuscany). All his other films were made in Iran.

Throughout "Like Someone in Love," we see the long takes, heavy bouts of dialogue and taste for the oblique that have marked the filmmaker’s long career. He is also fond of formal compositions, and in this movie more than a few are reminiscent of the work of Yasuhiro Ozu, a director Kiarostami greatly admires.

There are some limited rewards in seeing the consequences and complexities that result from the characters’ deceptions and assumed roles, but in the end the film is unsatisfying.

The director isn’t required to give moviegoers an explanation and conventional closure, but he owes them more than slamming a door in their faces.

"Like Someone in Love" is best suited to viewers already familiar with this extraordinary filmmaker’s better work.

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