Iranian filmmaker goes to Tokyo for enigmatic tale

Given the state of artistic freedom in Iran, it makes sense that Abbas Kiarostami, the critically lauded dean of Iranian filmmakers, has been globetrotting of late.

His beguiling “Certified Copy” traveled to a hill town in Italy, and his latest, “Like Someone in Love,” is set in Tokyo.

If we conclude that Kiarostami sometimes clouded the meaning of his Iranian films for political reasons (and also for artistic reasons, I suspect), we can also conclude that he hasn’t grown any more explicit during his travels. I really like “Certified Copy,” but what it actually means is something any viewer is still turning over in his head.

For a while, “Like Someone in Love” unfolds in a way that is downright normal. In a bar in Tokyo, we meet a young student, Akiko (played by Rin Takanashi), who doubles as a prostitute. On a call one night, she visits the home of an elderly professor (Tadashi Okuno), but they appear too sleepy and distracted to consummate the session.

The next day, he assumes a more grandfatherly role in her life, especially as regards her possessive boyfriend. This development requires a little creative expression (in other words, the professor must lie about who he is), and takes the movie in an intriguing direction.

It’s around this time that “Like Someone in Love” becomes less normal, as Kiarostami exercises his love for long dialogue scenes in cars, and builds toward a final moment that is abrupt and — at least at first blush — completely unsatisfying.

In retrospect, I see better how the final moments make sense; these characters have painted themselves into a corner and leaving them suspended leaves it up to us to finish the story.

It’s certainly a rebuke to conventional storytelling, which Kiarostami has a history of rebuking.

Just before the final scene, there’s a terrific sequence involving the professor’s next-door neighbor, who has apparently been observing all the comings and goings, and finally airs her long-held thoughts on life, the professor and everything else.

It’s a wonderful little gem of a scene, and it reminds us that the perspective we’ve been watching in this movie is really only one perspective.

The movie’s not for everyone, but there’s something to be said for a film in which everything is in place, carefully thought out. Kiarostami carries us into a realm of uncertainty, but he does it with absolute authority.

“Like Someone in Love” (3 stars)

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami travels to Tokyo for this enigmatic tale of a prostitute who finds a grandfatherly figure in one of her clients. But it’s not as simple as that, as Kiarostami builds to a puzzling ending that literally leaves us in the middle of things — puzzling yet haunting, as it turns out. In Japanese, with English subtitles.

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Egyptian.

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