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A City of Sadness (1989) More at IMDbPro »Bei qing cheng shi (original title)

1 item from 2004

Cafe Lumiere

20 September 2004 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Screened at the Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's works have always been compared to those of Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu. Now, he explicitly makes the connection by directing a Japanese film, set in Tokyo, about an ordinary family. In short, it's not unlike the kind of movies Ozu the elder predecessor used to make. He also dedicated the movie to Ozu.

Cafe Lumiere, like most of Hou's bare, unadorned dramas, is a slow and methodical affair. It's composed of long takes, minimal action and a very detached camera that often looks at the actors from the back or peeks through obscured doors and windows. This is not easy viewing, nor is it meant for the ordinary moviegoer.

Plotwise, little happens. Yoko (Yo Hitoto) is a young writer impregnated by her Taiwanese boyfriend when she was teaching Japanese in Taiwan. However, she doesn't want to marry him so she has returned to Japan to live with her parents, who naturally are worried about her circumstance. But all they do is worry and look pensive. There are no domestic arguments or emotional outbursts in this Tokyo story.

Instead, Yoko spends her time traveling through Tokyo's labyrinthine subway system, researches for an article about a Taiwanese jazz musician, hangs out at a secondhand bookstore run by an equally inert shopkeeper named Hajime (played by Tadanobu Asano who is completely unrecognizable from his famous Ichi the Killer role) and have coffee together. That's all that really occurs in the film.

This poetic portrait of simple Japanese life immerses you in the elegance of the ordinary. It could just as easily be set in Taipei with its very Asian routines: the daily buying and cooking of food, completely absorbing oneself in leisure hobbies and the reserved silence of families accustomed to noncommunicative displays of affection. In fact, the characters seem to be more comfortable talking to each other on the phone than in person.

While cinephiles are sure to pick up on the allusions and stylistic references to Ozu, Cafe Lumiere is in no way meant to imitate. Hou's own profound sense of alienation is very evident in the long stretches of silence. This is not Hou trying to copy Ozu but paying homage and carrying forward the lineage as Ozu's implicit disciple.

Still, this is one of Hou's lesser works. There isn't the historical gravitas or the deeply personal impressionism that mark his Taiwanese stories like City of Sadness or even 2001's disappointing but similarly aimless youth-themed Millennium Mambo. Cafe Lumiere is by Hou's standard a pretty lightweight effort. Just don't confuse lightweight with accessible viewing. The fact is if you can stay awake through the whole 100 minutes, you should get a medal for being a resilient movie diehard.


Shochiku Co. ltd/The Asahi Shimbun Company/Sumitomo Corporation/Eisei Gekijo Co. ltd./Imagica Corp.


Director: Hou Hsiao-hsien

Producers: Hideshi Miyajima, Liao Ching-sung, Ichiro Yamamoto, Fumiko Osaka

Writers: Hou Hsiao-hsien, Chu T'ien-wen

Director of Photography: Lee Ping-ping

Editor:Liao Ching-sung

Production Designer: Toshiharu Aida

Sound: Tu Duu-chih


Yoko: Yo Hitoto

Hajime: Tadanobu Asano

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 104 minutes »

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