The film follows Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a young woman living in Tokyo working part time as an escort whilst completing her studies at university. When one night she is placed in a cab and sent to an ‘important’ client living outside the city, the elderly ex-professor Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) turns out to be her welcoming customer. In many ways it is a familiar story; one about the everyday melancholy and loneliness of modern/urban life, the yearning for human affection and the awkward struggle for intimacy. Yet Kiarostami’s communicates with such subtlety that the film transcends its deceptively simple narrative.
The film favours ambiguity over clarity and thin sheets of mystery seem to constantly layer and overlap, yet the mood remains contemplative rather than confusing. Often opting for more distant and still/ objective cinematography, the camera asks us to observe and not to judge – we are encouraged to empathise with the characters, but not overtly manipulated into doing so.
Kiarostami draws on the thematic occupations of Ozu in Like Someone in Love, familiarity and distance between generations is observed and critiqued. The sense of an overbearing morality tale is dispelled by the lack of a flawless character. And a feeling of the incomplete surrounds the film. We never truly discover the fate of the characters developed in the film, it is certainly brought to a swift end, but the possible consequences linger in the mind long after. The effect garnered is one of elegant intrusion.
Truth and falsehood in the film builds interesting characters not at qualms with deceit. Although as the story progresses we come to understand why moments of deception are necessary or preferable to the truth. Kiarostami therefore weaves the audience into Akiko and Takashi’s complicity and makes it tasteful. This subtlety guides us towards the odd couple at the centre of the narrative who may at first seem cold or insincere in the first third of the film. We are not forced to like Akiko and Takashi but instead are drawn to them, through Kiarostami presenting a phenomenological puzzle, which can widely ignore the morality of truth in pursuit of safety. This intelligence of direction and combination of storytelling makes for a beautifully complex Tokyo that seems so unwilling to give up its mystery.