As he proved with his first excursion beyond his homeland in 2009’s Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami is a master preserving the art of compelling dialogue to carry a narrative. Narrowing his chief protagonists down to a select few, he allows their stories to breathe as the blank spaces that separate them are filled with minute details. The effect is of an intricate portrait coming together though anyone who has delved into his back-catalogue knows that nothing is simple about the interaction of his creations: ambiguities are at the heart of what makes the Iranian director’s work so utterly compelling.
This time he’s transplanted the action to Tokyo. A young woman, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) finances her studies with work as a high-priced call girl. She’s also involved in an uneasy relationship with a jealous mechanic, Noriaki (Ryo Kase). When she reluctantly meets up with a new ‘client’, a retired professor, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) an unlikely friendship is forged as, over the course of a couple of days, her two worlds overlap, with potentially dire consequences.
The film’s opening scene provides an offsetting, disconcerting angle; the voice we hear seems disembodied from those in our direct line of sight. This is characteristic of Kiarostami and his masterful handling of composition and it invigorates the film in subtle ways. He’s become especially adept at using reflective surfaces to create space and expand the frame, giving his images greater depth whilst adding a layer of mystery.
Kiarostami, typically, eschews the need for a score and any perception of artificiality that may come attached. The few pieces of music are source; one of which, a gentle crooner’s lament circulating through Takashi’s apartment that couldn’t be more ironic, provides the film with its title. The abrupt ending, after a nerve-jangling preceding two minutes, will be a source of frustration for some. But it follows the Kiarostami modus operandi of never leaving his audience with a predictable, easy solution.
Like Someone in Love (2012) gets better as it progresses, solidifying in the rich accumulation of details as we learn more about Akiko and Takashi. Both actors are superb, often wordlessly transmitting a depth of emotional pain and confusion. But it’s the marvellous Okuno as the dignified professor who steals the show. Tiny details such as the way he negotiates his feet in and out of his slippers upon entering or leaving his apartment are enough to break your heart. Though not quite in the league of his masterpiece, Taste of Cherry (1997), this is an exquisitely moving, fascinating drama that further enhances Kiarostami’s reputation as one of world cinema’s most important voices.