On at least two occasions, Close-Up (1990) and Certified Copy (2010), Iran’s masterly Abbas Kiarostami has developed the contrivance of mistaken identity into profundity. You leave these movies shaken, expanded, thrilled. Maybe the director needs a break: Though his plot elements (and lengthy, contemplative car rides) remain familiar, Kiarostami’s Japan-set latest feels like a rushed first draft—or worse, a listless parody of his concentrated craft. Just as we’re getting a bead on Akiko (Rin Takanashi), a vacant college student moonlighting as an escort, we meet her ancient, kindly john, Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a retired professor. Later, the pair is interrupted by the former’s hotheaded boyfriend, Noriaki (Ryo Kase), who assumes a familial connection between the two.
They might as well be related: This elderly widower only wants someone to eat soup with (and dote on). While the interplay between the grandfatherly owl and the sleepy babe in his bed is underdeveloped, it’s still preferable to the day after, when they become an awkward trio, spinning a barely substantial lie. As the title indicates, Kiarostami includes some cooing Ella Fitzgerald on the soundtrack, and who can’t luxuriate in that music? Alas, the jazz lends an unearned sophistication to a tale that abruptly ends in a gag that’s close to a Playboy one-liner. The director has made disappointing films before—a more generous word might be transitional—but never one so slight.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf