THE POETICS OF SPACE
Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami’s last film, 2010’s Copie Conforme (Certified Copy) earned Juliette Binoche a Best Actress Award at the year’s Cannes Film Festival for her depiction of a French antiques dealer thrust into a Tuscan romance. Once again Kiarostami’s narrative focuses upon a beguiling female lead and her chance interactions with the various men of her everyday life, and in Like Someone in Love’s case, her not so everyday life amidst Tokyo’s neon flooded nights. Akiko is a beautiful and surprisingly naive sociology student moonlighting as a high-end call-girl for Tokyo’s upper-class male gentry. Juggling the guilt she feels in hiding her current career from her family, whilst fending off her fiancé’s constant probing paranoia, she unwillingly agrees to ‘meet’ elderly and widowed author Takashi – missing the chance to reunite with her concerned grandmother who is visiting Tokyo for the day.
Pictures focusing upon older male characters, and their relationships with younger female ones, are growing ever more prevalent today; themes of patriarchy and the family unit, morality, sexuality and sociology (specifically social taboo and acceptance) constantly collide and challenge in such contemporary narratives. Despite Akiko ultimately being a prostitute, issues of sexuality are not a focus for the director but rather an icebreaker in allowing him to address and dissect the emotional distance between his characters and the surrounding inhabitants of the city they call home.
As many filmmakers, from Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation), to Katsuhiro Ohtomo (Akira), to Gaspar Noé (Enter the Void) have revealed, Tokyo is a city which provides the perfect canvas for presenting such issues of social dislocation – whether that be via an impulsive romantic relationship or the action-packed exploits of an animated cyberpunk biker. The city is referred to as a “jungle” by Akiko’s fiancé, thus providing the reason why he must marry and protect her – despite his role as the overbearing and misguided antagonist in Akiro’s life. The word jungle implies an environment organic in nature, yet such depictions exhibit a Tokyo which is far more contrived, imprisoning their characters at the centre of an ever-present battle between ancient tradition and a rapidly evolving modernity; this is where the true chaos lies.
Kiarostami relays his message through a series of claustrophobic sequences inside restaurants and cramped apartments. The camera is often locked off and left to focus upon characters for extended periods. He utilises Tokyo’s cold futuristic environments of glass and technology to frame and conceal their faces, or even decides to not reveal them at all, employing only their dialogue. An early scene depicting Akiko’s taxi ride to Takashi’s home proves a particularly poignant in highlighting a message of physical closeness versus emotional distance.
Like Someone in Love is a picture brimming with complicated themes of contemporary life, yet through its strict focus upon the aesthetic and accomplished use of camera it simplifies those messages allowing the emphasis to rest upon its characters predicaments. Nevertheless, despite such stringent emphasis, it often lacks the heart that western audiences may expect from such a story, limiting your connection to its characters – but ultimately isn’t that an example of the picture mirroring the message it projects throughout? It may not be a casual watch in which you can lose yourself an hour and a half, but it is an important and compelling entry into cinema’s canon of lonely metropolises and their sequestered inhabitants, and one which is more than deserving of a little exploration.