We meet Akiko, a student, in a crowded bar. Despite her wide-eyed innocence and childlike demeanor, we learn that belying this façade is a secret that Akiko is struggling to keep from her family, fiancé and fellow classmates. It is at night that we meet her, and it is by night that she is pushed into a world of high-class escorts in order to pay for her studies. By the next day, we discover she is pretending that she is in love with her fiancé, Noriaki, who is struggling to control her every move by brute force and utter manipulation.
Rin Takanashi’s moving portrayal of guilt at betraying her grandmother (standing her up to meet a client) means that she falls into a “Little Red Riding Hood” role. She fails to see her grandmother because she is led astray by her pimp Hiroshi. In this case the red symbolism of sexuality is portrayed by her slathering on of brash rouge lipstick.
The film title is based on an Ella Fitzgerald song. The audience first hears this playing when Akiko enters her elderly client and soon-to-be avuncular rescuer’s apartment. Although he has hired her as an escort, Takashi has laid out a romantic meal and seems more comfortable in the dining room, adorned with pictures of his dead wife, than the bedroom. The song becomes poignant as we realise that all the characters are trying desperately to go through the motions of being in love, when really it is just a means of ridding oneself of loneliness, gaining money, or control.
Abbas Kiarostami, part of the 1960s Iranian New Wave film movement, chose Tokyo as the second location he has used outside of his home country. Scenes are predominantly set in cars, with the capitalist cityscape swirling around his young protagonist, a girl from a rural village. Characters’ reactions are refracted, reflected and highlighted through the automobile’s windows. There is a large importance placed on boundaries: frames, doors, windscreens and mirrors all act as metaphors for the blockades the characters have built up. They also add to the realism of the film; objects get in the way, blocking our view, and sometimes it is not immediately obvious who is speaking. One becomes so used to the protection these boundaries give that it is all the more shocking when they finally come ambiguously crumbling down.
Our rating: ***