From the very start of “Like Someone in Love,” the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami — working in Tokyo with a Japanese cast — seems intent on thwarting expectations and cleverly keeping us guessing about what’s happening on the screen. It’s an effective gambit that Kiarostami maintains throughout the film, all the way to an ending as abrupt as a knockout blow to the skull.
From his classic “Taste of Cherry” to his most recent “Certified Copy” (his first foray into international filmmaking), Kiarostami has always demanded the complete participation of the viewer, but never more than here: His “plot” is clear, but his intentions are not, and we’re encouraged to interpret the “action” (most of which occurs in slow-cruising cars on crowded Tokyo streets) however we please. This essentially turns “Like Someone in Love” into a Rorschach test of our own responses to the intimate drama unfolding before us.
And whose story is it, anyway? In the opening scene we’re initially uncertain about whose voice we’re hearing, then we see it’s the young and beautiful Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a college student who moonlights as a high-class escort. We follow her on a long taxi ride (Kiarostami leaves us to wonder what she’s thinking).
When she arrives, per her pimp’s instructions, at the home of a retired, elderly professor named Takashi (played by veteran bit player Tadashi Okuno in his first leading role), Kiarostami shifts to the old man’s perspective and sets up a case of mistaken identities that soon involves Akiko’s volatile fiancé (Ryo Kase) and Takashi’s nosy neighbor.
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Sex apparently isn’t on the old man’s mind, so what is? “Like Someone in Love” (the title comes from the classic torch song) leaves that and many other questions unanswered, and it’s that puzzling uncertainty that will quietly lure you in or put you to sleep, depending on how willing you are to fill in the blanks.