Abbas Kiarostami continues his filmmaking sabbatical away from his Iranian homeland, which began in Tuscany with Certified Copy and now moves to Tokyo. As with many of the director’s films, we are introduced to seemingly ordinary characters through extended sequences that play out in real time. His narratives are driven not by life-changing adventures, but by the drama of everyday life. Kiarostami avails us the opportunity of spending time with his characters, just long enough to see the cracks in the veneer, to catch a glimpse of their internal struggles that would normally remain hidden to casual onlookers. As he did in Taste of Cherry and Ten, the director again uses the confinement and forced intimacy of the automobile to insist his characters interact, expose themselves and connect.

Like Someone in Love charts a single night and morning in the life of young prostitute, Akiko (Rin Takanashi) through a series of lengthy, almost theatrical encounters. First she must negotiate an evening away from her overbearing boyfriend (Ryo Kase), before her pimp (Denden) sends her into the suburbs to visit a respected client at his home. Through a series of voice messages we learn Akiko’s grandmother has journeyed to town to meet her, and that Akiko has stood her up. Arriving at her client’s home very late at night, she discovers he is an elderly academic, Watanabe (Tadashi Okuno), eager to engage in sophisticated discussion, for which Akiko is woefully ill-equipped. However, as the film unfolds this unlikely pair does find common ground, especially when Akiko’s boyfriend re-enters the picture.

The result is a gentle, yet absorbing film that reveals itself slowly, but proves incredibly engaging from start to finish. We feel genuine sympathy for Akiko, while also acknowledging her failings. At the same time we are predisposed to view her boyfriend Noriaki as the villain of the piece, although our opinion of him is also challenged as events unfold. We must attempt to understand Watanabe, a man of great intellect, wit and education, who has been sidelined by a society that has largely left him behind. Introduced as something of a pervert or reprobate – ordering out for a young companion in the dead of night – by the end of the film, he has morphed into a figure of honour and decency, something which ironically leaves him all-the-more vulnerable.

Despite note-perfect performances, naturalistic writing and finely paced direction, there remains something inconsequential about Like Someone in Love. There is little doubt this is the work of a master filmmaker, but the relatively minor issues addressed by these characters inevitably demote the film to a minor entry in the oeuvre of someone capable, and often willing, of saying so much more. Kiarostami displays a keen understanding of Japanese sensibilities here, but ultimately Like Someone in Love mirrors its heroine and her colleagues, offering only fleeting gratification while in the moment, yet leaving us hungry for more substantial, emotionally-charged intercourse.

This review first appeared in Vérité Film Magazine June 2013