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Its' Asian location, slow, languid pace and free-form story of distant people brought to my mind hesitant, negative thoughts of What Time is It There? and Tony Takitani, but while I struggled to keep my attention on the screen and lost interest several times in those films, this film, for whatever reason, managed to envelop me its in languidity(?).
The outdoor scenes have the ambient noise of life that I just love, and when they do have to be inside, it's primarily on trains or in book stores, and the fact that I love riding on trains and light rails, and love the atmosphere of libraries and book stores doesn't hurt either.
The film got me on a personal level and never seemed to linger too long on any scene, with each scene going on as a page in the book of a life, without seeming like I just wasted eight minutes watching someone sit in a car, or multiple scenes of a man peeing in a bottle (looking at you on both counts, What Time is it There?); I was just never encouraged to let my mind wander.
I hear this is an homage to Ozu, but other than the compositions at the dinner table, I really don't see it. Hou moves his camera more in the opening scene than Ozu did in his entire CAREER (to wit, I've seen seven Ozu films, and in those seven films, he's moved his camera ONCE (in Tokyo Story, and it's so jarring I can't even articulate it.)) The "story" is hardly notable, because there really isn't any. You're not given the facts outright, there's no one to come in and fill in all the exposition that the characters already know unsaid, and there's really nothing that needs expositing...it's almost wholly like falling a not-particularly-notable individual around her quiet days. We can't all be Jason Bourne, and sometimes, you'd rather just hang out at the bookstore.
I was underwhelmed by Hsiao-Hsien's The Puppetmaster in a similar way to the other two films mentioned, but this? You have earned yourself a reprieve, Hou, because I really enjoyed this. (Grade: A-)
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