For many Like Someone In Love will be a boring film to watch, but others are about to be engrossed by characters, their stories, interactions and even a drive through Tokyo. Or just be fascinated by the director's style. Or love the outside of main character Akiko (played by Rin Takanashi) and her appearance and hate her dilemma and inconsiderate duplicity. Or be engulfed in utter dismal sorrow at the treatment of Akiko's grandmother (played by Kaneko Kubota), which in terms of sheer emotional sadness is second only to Tomi Hirayama's life and death in Tokyo Story. In Tokyo Story too, the grandmother talks to a grandchild who does not hear or listen. Here is a film that in turn will induce absurdity, embarrassment, squirming, love, lust, hate, loathing, discomfort and pity.
Akiko is a typical Tokyo girl. She is from Fukuroi in Shizuoka. She is pretty, has a fiancé and is ostensibly in the city attending university. She, however, leads a surreptitious existence. We know this soon enough because we quickly put two and two together based on her conversation with her fiancé Noriaski (played by Ryo Kase) and the persons she shares a table with, a manipulative and filthy Hiroshi (played by Denden) and Nagisa (played by Reiko Mori).
Foreign directors in Japan could go one of two ways. It could be a Lost in Translation [Blu-ray] (Sofia Coppola - Grade: A) or a Map of the Sounds of Tokyo (Isabel Coixet - Grade: C-). Incidentally, look for sequences here in Tokyo and Yokohoma including Lumine Est in Shinjuku and several stores like Sweets Paradise, the entrance to Daisan Keihin Road and the Aoyama Book Centre. This is not Tenten `Adrift In Tokyo' Adrift in Tokyo yet the drive sequence in Tokyo at night is so utterly commonplace and yet simultaneously so pivotal and thought-provoking. How could one not grade Like Someone In Love more like the former film than the latter?
As the film opens Akiko is sitting in a pub heard but not seen. This is the first of many intrigues in a story where most things are implied and perceived and not spelt out for us. Then we see manipulation and deceit in multiple back-and-forths. The story unfolds in real-time as a peculiar drama in which patience is a necessity. Should one persevere the film literally makes an art form of making the viewer guess what is going on now and what will come next. Images are seen as reflections, one overhears conversations being conducted off-camera and one listens for the consequences without actually seeing the incidents' instigators.
There are a few sequences of levity as with Akiko's interaction with Watanabe's neighbour and the latter person's with her brother. The earlier almost-monologue itself is delivered with breathless conviction. Speaking of which, each of the admittedly few cast members exudes an amazing ability to make the acting look easy when it is anything but. After all, it is anything but given that the character-driven focus and a lack of special effects and graphics will have to hold our attention. Yet, they do and at length. Ryo Kase, in particular, delivers such a convincing performance that I for one could not have foreseen after seeing him in Honey & Clover. He might as well not have been an actor in a film, but a boyfriend being lied to by a woman in his real life ("I am not lying to you," she assures him as she lies to him) and deceived as usual making Akiko a shameless wench in more than one way. She plays it straight as the uncaring female type while Noriaski is as bewildered as any man who has lost a woman to dishonesty. Make no mistake about it. Like Someone In Love's honesty and cruelty lies in showing Akiko as a casual and professional deceiver as she only outwardly frets to not be one or be unhappy about herself and her actions. Her acting is natural and matter-of-fact perhaps practiced from the life of a modern woman.
The film, however, disappoints many with its ending. It is just not there and like the rest of this piece of art leaves much to the imagination of the audience. Using the word `piece,' however, might be apropos given what the director likely wanted to convey at the end. Include in the disappointed group this writer. Likely a decade ago the joke would have been that the director and studio ran out of money. A more likely culprit is the Zen of Like Someone In Love. Zen is a Chinese Buddhist school that emphasized the now above all else. Earlier in the film Watanabe sings `whatever will be will be' and alternately counsels Noriaski to let it go and advises Akiko to stop fretting and let things happen. As it turns out he is ignored and is wrong (in that sequence), but the director and writer's script direction is based upon emphasizing the present moment at every turn. Amazing as it is Like Someone In Love falls short because it assumes too much and does not give us a definite ending.
Like Someone In Love is quite impressive in another regard. As mentioned, the grandmother is never properly seen, but even with the Japanese and the infinite capacity to sadden, her part is dismal. She is an old woman in a strange town longing for love and family having left her infirm husband behind for a day only to connect and bond and what happens instead is as sad as anything one could see. The build-up is masterful. Akiko's cruelty to, among others, the older generation and the latter's infinite patience is indeed alternately reminiscent of Tokyo Story (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray + DVD) and Yasujiro Ozu The Only Son (The Critereon Collection) DVD and even more cruel because it is so easily rectifiable and generational. Kudos goes to the direction and cinematography which depict such loneliness all around in a metropolis of thirteen million. It should be noted - because of the earlier emphasis on the Japanese sensibility of the film - now that the story and direction come courtesy of an Iranian in this Franco-Japanese co-production, which in the latter case by happenstance makes it related to one of Japan's most controversial films In the Realm of the Senses (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray].
Akiko is a beautiful woman with such an ugly life, behaviour and personality, except that is how it is usually, isn't it?