Monday 21 May 2012
Abbas Kiarostami can sometimes create challenging endings. The sign-off to his masterpiece A Taste of Cherry is still something to be pondered. But his latest movie, set in Tokyo, really is bafflingly and even exasperatingly truncated. There are some interesting ideas and sympathetic performances in a superbly shot and fascinatingly controlled exercise. There is potential. But the curtain comes down with an arbitrary crash just as the drama was becoming interesting.
The action revolves around a young student Akiko (Rin Takanashi) who is doing escort work in Tokyo, and becoming increasingly exhausted and disenchanted. When she is sent out on a job in the suburbs, her client turns out to be a gentle and grandfatherly academic, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno) who is amusingly shown distractedly taking a late-night telephone call from someone wanting some translation work done – as Akiko is coming through the door. The relationship between this ingenuous and good-natured young woman and shy old man develops in an intriguing way and Takashi winds up giving cautious advice to Akiko’s garage mechanic boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase) who claims to be her fiancé, and is in serious danger of finding out how Akiko picks up extra cash.
As in his previous film Certified Copy, Kiarostami shows interest in social norms, persona and role play. The movie also shows the classic Kiarostami mannerism of extended conversations in cars: that interesting and intimate space which is neither entirely public nor private. As the action progresses, the dramatic mystery deepens, and the film becomes more engaging: the audience is invited to ponder Takashi’s backstory. A nosey neighbour hints at family worries. And we wonder about Akiko’s own troubled past.
But this is all taken away from us. The movie is cut off so sharply, I almost wondered if, like Tarantino’s Kill Bill, there is some second part still to come. The enigma of its sudden stop doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to be a particularly rewarding one. It is just opaque. When Akiko arrives in his apartment, Takashi is playing Ella Fitzgerald’s recording of the song Like Someone in Love, by Jimmy Van Heusen and Johnny Burke. But is he in love? Is she? These ideas are not explored. It is a beautifully shot, and very nicely acted beginning to something: but finally frustrating.
Sunday 23 June 2013
In his previous film – Certified Copy, set outside his native Iran – director Abbas Kiarostami cast Juliette Binoche and William Shimell as a man and woman who, over the course of a long day together, are variously tour guide and tourist, stranger and confidante, husband and wife.
Such fluidity of identity is revisited in his latest enigmatic sketch, a modern Tokyo story, in which a young woman, both fiancée and escort, is sent to the home of an ageing professor who accidentally assumes the mantle of grandfather. Meanwhile a grandmother is reduced to a series of plaintive voice-mail messages, and a neighbour talks of her thwarted desires to become a wife. Unfolding at an unhurried, observational pace (which crucially never provokes impatience) this is an intriguing, elliptical affair, the emphasis on reflective surfaces (and off-screen voices) reminding us that we are only ever seeing an opaque refraction of the whole picture.
The recurrent mistaken identity motif is employed to subtle effect, with every character seeing only as much they choose, each telling a version of their own story. Masks are donned, roles played (and reversed), lives intersected. Like so much of Kiarostami’s work, the further away from it one gets, the more it seems to mean; his real skill, perhaps, is in making the profound appear lightweight, its gravitational pull noticeable only during the escape trajectory.
This wondrous, fable-like, yet pain-streaked new film by the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami is set in Tokyo, where a young prostitute working her way through college (Rin Takanashi) is pressured by her firmly paternal pimp to see a john that night despite her prior appointment with her grandmother. The next morning, the client (Tadashi Okuno), a retired professor, drives her to school, where, thrown together with her fiancé (Ryo Kase), a conscientious mechanic, the old man rapidly assumes a surprisingly active and beneficent role in her life. The story’s sentimental contours—emphasized by Kiarostami’s distinctive blend of analytical stylization and documentary avidity—throw character traits into sharp relief while filling in the background with a tangle of relationships and moral twists. From the very first shot—in a bar, where the action is sparked by an off-camera voice—he revitalizes the ordinary by means of his extraordinary powers of perception and juxtaposition. As in many of his movies, the bulk of the action takes place in and around cars. The filmed trips through Tokyo infuse the rich texture of the city with a startling emotional intensity and a sense of teeming ambient drama; keen and searching gazes through windows and windshields and their myriad reflections evoke silent cries of solitude. In Japanese.