“Like Someone in Love”: Tokyo as a gleaming city of exteriors

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“Like Someone in Love” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. Not rated, 1:49, two stars out of four.

In his new feature, “Like Someone in Love,” expatriate Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami aims to put the viewer in the shoes of his characters.

Literally. The opening scene is shot from the viewpoint of someone sitting in a restaurant, fielding phone calls from a jealous boyfriend, exchanging chitchat with a friend at the next table. It’s only after a few minutes that we see whose eyes we’re looking through — a Japanese college student named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) who moonlights as a call girl.

The implication, I suppose, is that the men in her life don’t really see her, but the women they wish to see in her. Her pimp, who looks like an overworked banker, sees her as a commodity to be used. Her boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase) sees her as an idealized, faithful supplicant, and of course flies into a rage upon realizing that isn’t true.

The third man she meets in the film is a customer, an elderly professor named Takashi (Tadashi Oduno). He sees Akiko as more of a surrogate granddaughter than a prostitute, preferring to eat and converse with her. When she heads for the bedroom, he seems to crumple quietly inside, his self-created illusion punctured.

Kiarostami returns several times to this first-person perspective with other characters, but the problem with “Like Someone in Love” is that, while we can see the world through their eyes, we rarely access how they think or feel about it. They remain frustratingly opaque, slipping into broad stereotype (kindly old man, angry young man, hooker with a heart of gold) rather than deepening.

Coming on the heels of last year’s dazzling and confounding “Certified Copy,” Kiarostami’s new film feels  like a bit of a step down. Having escaped his native Iran when the mullahs were cracking down on artists and filmmakers there, Kiarostami seems to have entered a new period as a “world director.” “Certified Copy” was set in Italy, “Like Someone in Love” in Tokyo.

The best scenes in the film use Tokyo, such as a long wordless taxi ride where the cool exteriors of the city glide by as Akiko looks on. But the film is all exteriors; where “Certified Copy” explored the deep, contradictory mysteries of the human heart, there doesn’t feel like much going on beneath the surface here.

After skimming along these surfaces, “Like Someone in Love” ends with a moment of sudden, shocking violence. It  doesn’t feel organic, more like Kiarostami figured he had to end his film somehow, and this jarring choice was as good as any. “Like Someone in Love” feels like a minor effort, an exercise in style rather than an experience.

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