Café Lumière (2003) Poster

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A transitional work but still Illuminating
Howard Schumann4 October 2004
Acutely observed and exquisitely realized, Hou Hsiao-hsien's 16th film, Café Lumiére, is a loving tribute to the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu on the centenary of his birth. The film, the first by Hou to be shot in a foreign location, pays homage to Ozu by depicting themes repeated in many of his films: relationships between aging parents, the marriage plans of a grown child, the coming and going on trains, and the quiet contemplation of everyday life. The style, however, is still unmistakably Hou, with its long takes, extended silences, and focus on mundane conversations. In one scene inside a tempura shop, the camera simply observes people coming and going for several minutes while we hear the sound of plates clattering, and food being fried.

Yo Hitoto is Yoko, a young Japanese writer who is researching the life of a real Taiwanese musician Jiang Wen-ye, who was popular in Japan during the 1930s. Yoko was raised by her uncle in Yubari but lives in Tokyo with her father and stepmother. She becomes friends with Hajime (Asano Tadanobu), the owner of a secondhand bookstore and they meet often in her favorite coffee shop, making small talk and enjoying the passing scene. He is a train buff who spends his days riding the subway, recording the sound of trains, public address announcements, and the conversations of passengers. Though they are best friends and not lovers, he is startled to find out that she is pregnant by a Taiwanese whom she does not want to marry. Yoko's father (Nenji Kobayashi) and stepmother (Kimiko Yo) urge her to marry though her father is uncommunicative in spite of his wife's best efforts to get him to open up. Oko's uncertainty about her parents demands for marriage is reminiscent of Late Spring, An Autumn Afternoon, and other Ozu films on this subject.

Café Lumiére pace is deliberate, painstakingly detailed, and without much narrative thrust but it may be the film that Ozu would have made if he lived in the modern age. Beautifully shot by Lee Ping-ping, the film allows us to view the world the characters inhabit, providing extraordinary details of Tokyo life including outlying districts such as Jimbocho, known for its many bookstores, and Kishibojin with its look of old Tokyo. Millennium Mambo may be considered minor Hou and Café Lumiére, transitional Hou but whatever category it is placed in, Hou's work, for me, is illuminating and unforgettable.
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The light aroma lingers
Harry T. Yung25 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Café Lumiere is Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's tribute the 100th birthday anniversary of Japanese master Ozu Yasujiro. Many reviewers have mentioned the signature static images and the "tatami-level" shots. Particularly noticeable in Café Lumiere is the focus on trains. The camera brings to the audience a parade of Tokyo's subway stations (underground and surfaced) as well as moving trains (inside and outside). One motif scene comes up regularly – a carefully framed crane shot of a busy intersection of several railway tracks at a river. The static picture, accentuated by the geometric beauty of tracks and bridges criss-crossing, is brought to life by trains passing in all directions, along the river and over it. We don't know where they come from or go to. This perhaps is the image of life that director Hou wants us to take away when we emerge from the cinema.

The story, if there's any to speak of, is cross-sectional rather than linear. We see a point in the life of young writer-researcher Yoko where she is at a cross-road, just pregnant but determined to be a single mother (because her Taiwanese boyfriend is too much of his mother's boy). Her traditional father and stepmother are obviously disturbed. On Yoko's part, she is more disinterested than alienated. Her stepmother, mind you, is not the Cinderella stereotype but appears to be a sensible and kindly woman. The communication gap between Yoko and her parents however cannot be more obvious. Their sole conversation topic seems to be the parent's kind concern that she should eat well, and the conversation is forever punctuated by silences. Her revelation of her pregnancy to them could not have been more complacent, as if she was just telling them that she had flu.

The most mesmerising thing about Café Lumiere is Yoko's relationship with a good friend Hajime, a bookstore owner who has so much of a passion in his hobby of locomotives that he goes all over Tokyo with a tape recorder just to record the sound of passing trains at different locations. Hajime however is not a weirdo as his unorthodox hobby suggests, but the exact opposite, a most gentle, sensitive and considerate young man, who seems to be providing a shoulder for Yoko to lean on in her troubled times. Their relationship somehow reminds me of Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, although the circumstances are miles apart. And yet, there are similarities, in two people genuinely interested in what each other is doing and share blissful, quiet moments together in each other's company. While the fact that they deeply care for each other is obvious in Sunrise/Sunset, it's a lot more subtle in Café Lumiere.

Consider one scene, when Yoko is sleeping in her apartment with a light flu. Door bell and knocking go on alternatively for quite a long time and the audience would probably assume that it's the expectant visit of her out-of-town parents. It turns out to be Haijme bringing over some graphics on his computer notebook to show her. Barely able to keep her eyes open after struggling to open the door, Yoko asks politely "Can I go back to sleep?" and Haijme replies "Of course". The next scene shows Yoko waking up, apparently much recovered, and a bowl of noodles placed in front of her. After the nourishment, she proceeds to enthusiastically look at Haijme's computer graphic on trains, engaging him in a lot of questions.

Whenever we see the two together, it's in mundane, ordinary daily existence (a lot of that in Café Lumiere), but with the screen running over with a relaxing mood of comforting tenderness. In the very last scene, after a typically uncommunicative visit from her parents, Yoko goes over to the bookstore to find that Haijme is out there somewhere recording the sound of trains again. A little lost, she gets on a train, sits down (she usually stands) and falls into a nap. In comes Haijme, spots her and moves to stand in front of her, without waking her. In the next scene, we see the two of them getting off the train onto the platform. He continues with his recording while she stands a little distance away, with an almost indiscernible smile of contentment. Minimalism at its best.
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Cafe Lumiere, and trains passing in daylight
adrian chan31 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This little film has all the treatment and feel of a low-budget indie production, but it's actually directed by well known Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou, commissioned by Japan for the 100th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu birthday. And it's a perfect homage to Ozu, "more Japanese" than a Japanese film could have been (notes one commentator).

Partway through this film I noticed something strange about the relations between actors. I don't think there's a single reaction shot in this film. Certainly no use of the shot-reaction shot technique that's conventionally used by film makers to get across how actors feel about each other.

Shot: actor's attention directed to another actor. Reverse shot: other actor's face gives away the relationship between the two.

The shot/reverse shot technique seems to work so well, I think, not so much because it's hard to put two actors on the screen at the same time, but because we (audience) relate uniquely to the face and emotion of a single face, and it's that--the film's relationship to its audience through the camera, which places the audience in relation to actors on the screen, that motivates an emotional response in the viewer that's always different with one face on screen than with two or more.

Cafe Lumiere contains no shot/reverse shot sequences. In fact the actors don't make eye contact. And this decision, conscious or not, creates a film in which its characters are always in a scene. Even when they are alone together in the smallest of bookstores, we are given a scene and not a relationship.

The camera's still disposition to scenes, urban and interior, captures a landscape of objects and places through which the trapped love of our two lead characters journey in pursuit of a way to connect. Their affections for each other play like muted horns amidst a jingle of train station announcements and contemporary piano movements, there but not together. They are like two passengers, at times on parallel trains (and this is the film's crucial scene), traveling in the same direction but separated by the window panes (pains) through which they direct their looks in a longing to collapse the space between the tracks, able to make the journey, but not together.

Beneath the film's unfocused care and tenderness is the story of Yoko's adoption, her pregnancy, and her decision to repeat her own past by bringing up the child without a father. And her friend's (non-lover's) silent yearning, "at the edge," as he puts it in one scene, pictured in a rendering of his own (yes the actor actually made that drawing) as a lonely fetus (perhaps crying, he notes) in an eyeball surrounded by trains and tracks, alluding of course to suicide, preoccupied with a passion for recording trains and their sounds in order to capture evidence (he notes, and does he mean, of his death, should he join his trains on the tracks?)...

This is a great little film about hesitation and the desire to overcome it, a film that leaves open the possibility of redemption and which attaches it to the younger generation, who in their innocence and freedom might stand a better chance than the bound generation that brought them into the world to begin with.
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Ozu is dead.
danielhsf10 September 2005
Ozu is dead. If there's one thing that Hou manages to prove in his tribute to Ozu's centennial, it is that Ozu is dead. Never is there going to be another man who can portray human relationships in the same light as Ozu. The same steadfastness they have as they try as hard as they can to hold on to each other; the sadness they feel when having to leave the family; the difficulties of living together in one household; the moments of regret that they have when one of their family has to leave; and their final acceptance that these are all but a part of life.

Hou shows us a Japan that has changed so much from the Japan that Ozu so painstakingly tries to hold on to by capturing it on his camera. Each tear, each regret, each joy is now lost in a world that tries too hard to change. Wim Wenders first laments this in Tokyo Ga on how banal Tokyo has become and how much of an imitation culture new Japanese culture is. Cafe Lumiere, while not being as impassioned as Wender's masterpiece, is every bit as pensive about its regret of the passing on of the old Japan that Ozu loves so much.

While in Ozu's films, a pregnancy would herald a big event in a family's lifeline, in Cafe Lumiere it is merely a passing thought. While in Ozu's films, the lead character (most often played by goddess-like Hara Setsuko) would usually be self-sacrificial as best she can to ensure the family's togetherness, here Yoko is determined on striking out as a single mother, regardless of her father's silently burning disapproval.

Undeniably, Hou doesn't pass much judgment on his characters. In fact the portrayal of Yoko only shows her as a very modern and much independent Japanese female that is fast becoming the norm in Japan. The female who does not want to be tied down and holds little regard of familial values. And definitely, it would be seen as regressive should Japan return to the past for the sake of the days when family was at the core of societal structure. After all, the definition of progress is change right? Yet, one can't help but feel the absence of Ozu in this movie, the absence that makes its tone all the more poignant in spite of its spots of warmth. Ozu seems to be like the ghost of Maggie Cheung in 2046, or the missing woman in L'Avventura; he is not there, and is never referenced in the movie, and yet, the opening shot of the movie and a few scenes of familial warmth gives one such a pang in the heart that is so distinctly Ozu. In fact, that Hou decides to have many shots of trains departing and leaving and criss-crossing each other in modern Tokyo, and letting us hear the all-familiar sounds of trains going across railways that is so definitive of Ozu's films, only shows that he is fully aware of this fact, and, like Wenders, is seeking to find what little there is left of Ozu's spirit. In the overwhelmingly modern backdrop of Tokyo, we see how something of the past, like the cafe that Yoko hunts for, that some people so want to preserve, has been turned into another urban development project. However, in the film, Hou also shows us that although the landscape of Tokyo now denies Ozu, there is still decidedly some of Ozu's warmth in human relationships. Like how Yoko still feels the same kindred spirit as she tucks in to her favorite dish that her mother has prepared; seeking out old sights in her hometown, sights that remind her of times when she was a kid and still not thinking of independence. And just perhaps, in showing all this, Hou is persuading us to accept life as what we can, just as how the people in Ozu's movies eventually have to accept the loss of one of their family members.

I went to Tokyo last June and coincidentally, Kamakura was part of the itinerary. I remember how excited I was, since Kamakura was many a setting for Ozu's films, and it was the place where Ozu was buried after his death. As I reached the Kamakura station on the Enoshima metroline, my heart was all awashed with glee to see that the station looked almost exactly the same as it looked in Ozu's films. The same old signboard, and the same railway tracks against looming mountains. And yet as I walked around Kamakura (now a popular tourist spot for its famous Daibutsu or Big Buddha), I couldn't help but notice how foreign it was despite its quaint Japanese-ness. There were so many tourists walking around the town amidst its quiet surbuban houses, and so many signboards blaring English signs. In a bid to find Ozu's grave, every time I saw a cemetery I would go over to look if there was a tablet that has only a 'mu' character on it. But I never found it. Sigh.
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Another masterpiece from Hou Hsiao-hsien
PenGuhWin23 July 2005
Hou Hsiao-hsien's previous film, "Millennium Mambo," was filled with pulsating colors and rhythms - "Cafe Lumiere," on the other hand, offers us classical piano music, bookshops, and trains... lots of trains.

To me, the plot, and in some way the characters, seemed very fluid - you never knew where the film was leading you, and (as in many of Hou's films) it's left up to you to form your own opinion about the characters.

"Cafe Lumiere" is a very languid, soothing film, filled with marvelous images and memorable vignettes. It is not a good place for a newcomer to Hou's films to start (try "Mambo" for that), and not a good film for the impatient. However, if you approach it in the right frame of mind, you will find yourself somehow transported into another person's life for a couple of hours, and come out with the film rattling around your subconscious for days afterward.
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Shadow and Light
Meganeguard5 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Directed by one of Taiwan's most acclaimed directors, Goodbye South, Goodbye, Flowers of Shanghai, Millennium Mambo, but filmed entirely in Japan and in the Japanese language, Café Lumiere is a tribute for the 100th birthday of one of Japan's most famous directors: Ozu Yasujiro. Renowned for his use of shadow and light and unmoving cameras, Ozu's films mainly concentrated on the internal struggles of families inside there traditional, often spacious, homes where not only did the hidden tensions between family members come to the surface, but also the care and affection, albeit subdued, that the family members hold for each other. In this 2003 film, Hou Hsiao-hsien attempts to capture Ozu's celluloid landscape with his own camera, but how successful is he? A writer, Inoue Yoko has just returned home to Japan from Taiwan where she continued her research on the Taiwanese composer Jiang Wen-ye. Suffering from nightmares on her trip, she calls her friend Hajime, Asano Tadanobu, the proprietor of a used bookstore, and tells him of her nightmare about a baby whose face began to melt like ice. Later she travels to the quiet confines of the bookstore to pick up a couple of books and CDs Hajime acquired for me. Yoko then spends an inordinate amount of time wandering Tokyo before going to see her father and stepmother. Almost completely silent, almost the only sentence uttered by Yoko while at home is that she would like her mother to prepare her some nikujaga, beef stew. However, that night, after her father has gone to bed, Yoko tells her stepmother that she is pregnant and that she does not plan on marrying the baby's Taiwanese father but instead that she intends to raise the child on her own. It is later revealed that she does not want to marry her boyfriend because he is a mama's boy whose mother still controls most of his life.

With this information later revealed to him, Yoko's father becomes even more silent, and Yoko continues her day to day activities researching Jiang Wen-ye and enjoying the company of Hajime who helps her with her research while he continues his own obsessions of recording the sounds of trains.

Although a bit vacuous, Café Lumiere is beautifully filmed. The interior of Hajime's bookstore, Yoko's apartment and family home, and the interiors of the cafes are stunning to behold because of the mixture of shadow and light. Hajime's bookstore has an almost claustrophobic comforting nature with its hundreds of books and dark wood. The characters come off as a bit empty, but this might stem from Hou's desire to create characters who are so absorbed within the interiors of their own beings that they chose to reduce their communications with the outside world. While a decent movie, Café Lumiere is definitely not a must see unless one is either a major fan of Hou Hsiao-hsien or maybe Asano Tadanobu.
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Not a satisfactory Ozu homage, but Hou is always stylish
Chris Knipp7 February 2006
A girl who is pregnant is visited by her parents and may not know who the father is. Her main friend works in a bookstore and records train sounds as a hobby. For this viewer, "Café Lumière," which had been long anticipated, was disappointing when finally seen. It didn't leave very strong impression and a week later it had almost faded from the mind. It seems to me that the resemblance to Ozu, whom this was commissioned by the producer as a sort of homage to, is superficial indeed. Ozu can make you cry. This, despite its Ozu-like structure, leaves you feeling rather blank. Perhaps this is because it's essentially about people avoiding real contact with each other.

That's not the same as being reserved. In fact it's extremely different. People who are shy and reserved, as Ozu's characters tend to be, may very often care very intensely. The impression is that these people devised for Hou's version of Japan just don't ultimately seem to feel very much. If this is how things are now in Japan, too bad; but would Hou really know? He's Chinese. He has even admitted in interviews that culturally he was a bit out of his depth in coming to Japana to make a film. Despite very assured style, the deadpan story has no pulse. This is more a perversion of than homage to the great Ozu. Another commentator has said Café Lumière "may be the film that Ozu would have made if he lived in the modern age." It may be; but I don't think so. And if it were, then it is as well that Ozu did not live in the modern age, because he would have ceased to be Ozu.

As I have said recently in another context, Hou doesn't always hit it, but when he does he flies to the moon. Hou can't make a movie without stylistic and visual elegance, and "Café Lumière," with its cool tranquility and measured pace and its delicate light, has those qualities. But he didn't make it to heaven this time. In the second part of his recent "Three Times," he did: all the way to the moon. So he can still fly, but this conscientious, measured effort plods.
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Serene, visual poetry
arabesuku27 May 2007
I am a complete stranger to the works of Hsiao-hsien Hou and Yasujiro Ozu, but I would like to give my opinion on this anyway.

Probably like me, strangers to the works of those directors will find this slow-paced, a little repetitive (with Yoko constantly getting on/off trains) and somewhat confusing in places.

However, watching it I noticed how simply human it was. Most films have a terrible dilemma, which usually are very much unlike real life. But this is a very simple film, in which in the dilemma is simply that she is three months pregnant but does not wish to marry the father of the unborn child. Very human.

Another way it was a very human hearted film was the relationships between her parents - who watch their growing daughter with concern slowly become more independent - and between her bookshop friend - having little chats in the bookshop, not going into deep conversation but having light-hearted chat.

It didn't have to be complicated, and that's what I liked most about this film. It was something to relate to.

This film is definitely a piece of art. Notice how the only soundtrack within the whole picture (music-wise) is Weyne's pieces (that is, during the film - there is a song during the credits). This brings more emphasis on the humanity of the film and the artistic camera shots used. It's a very poetic and serene film.

Cafe Lumiere probably means more to Hsiao-hsien Hou and Yasujiro Ozu fans than it did to me. But it was a sweet film and I'd definitely recommend it to those who just want something simple and quiet to watch.
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A small piece
Pidgey14 March 2006
Café Lumiere is a joyful slice, a little piece, which is both satisfying and leaves you wanting to move on to another day within the context of the movie. The story and characters are inconsequential, this is relayed through long shots, or entire scenes with the character's back facing the camera, or the mumbled dialog. What is relevant is the light, sound movement, ordinary experience of existence.

Yasurjiro Ozu the brilliant director who managed to give a entire sensibility to the mundane and static pedestrian point of view, is present here, but the light and tone of this movie is all about everyday Japan and its timeless pace. The essence of this film is it's universality and regard for the human experience. It is brilliant and fantastic as a reflection of the world at large and as a microcosm.
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Disappointing, as might have been expected
shusei22 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
In my opinion,a mature cinematographer as Hou must not have made an "anniversary film" of a classic who has been dead for 40 years.

Cinema and film industry has changed quite a lot for these 40 years,and the conditions,with which Ozu had made his films, in fact, has almost vanished even soon after his death. In France Alain Resnais had made two revolutionary films("L' Année dernière à Marienbad" and "Muriel ou Le temps d'un retour"),Godard and Truffaut was in quest of new relationship between words, sound and image.In Japan, Oshima and Imamura was struggling with contemporary social and political reality,to say something new by cinema. Even Kurosawa,Keisuke Kinoshita and Masaki Kobayashi was trying to represent the new reality.

Ozu was a great filmmaker, but he was already a man of the past in the first 1960s'. What irritates me in Hou's film is the fact that he clearly knows it all, and only tries to show "the beauty in life as it is" in Tokyo and Japanese countryside which he has never lived. His style is consistent as before, but what he wants to show us,lacks his own view to the reality, to contemporary Japanese people. He vainly tries to show what retired generations or young conservative people who stopped thinking want to see in Ozu's films, what is too quiet and beautiful and what is not true. It's the greatest difference between this film and his former masterpieces.
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I'm that guy who doesn't like Hou Hsiao-Hsien
zetes21 January 2006
Eh, I thought this was slightly above average for Hou. Which means I still didn't care for it much, but I didn't exactly dislike it, either. As far as the (non- or possibly anti-) story goes, it's probably his slightest yet. A young woman is newly pregnant. She wanders around, rides the trains, hangs out with a friend, has half-heard conversations on a cell phone, eats, drinks milk, eats some more and generally avoids the issue of what's in her belly. So, yes, it's pretty dull. But Hou does capture an ambiance that is pleasant, at the very least. I have in the past likened Hou's work to sitting on a bus and eavesdropping. Funny, as one of the main characters in this film enjoys recording ambient noises on passenger trains. At least in this film you get to hang around a pretty Japanese girl and Tadanobu Asano, star of such great Asian flicks as Ichi the Killer and Last Life in the Universe. I loved the last sequence and the final shot.
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homage to Ozu
dromasca13 June 2009
One needs to watch carefully and attentively this film which is not easy, but reserves a lot of interesting and beautiful things, despite a lack of story or actually despite the story not being in the focus of the director. It is a reverence by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien to the Japanese master director Ozu on the 100th anniversary of it's birthday. However, it is not a film of quotes, but rather a travel to research what is left of Ozu's world in the Japan of today, and the connection between Taiwan and Japan in the world that was once Ozu's.

There are a lot of trains in this film. This passion for railways may be taken from Ozu, but in 'Cafe Lumiere' about third of the film happens in trains or railway stations. A memorable sequence describes the universe of metropolis with trains entering and exiting tunnels, another shows in a computer generated drawing an universe of trains, squeezing a minuscule uterus and a child - maybe the expected child of Yoko, the principal character of the film, or maybe symbol of fragility of our existence in the modern world.

Another fantastic scene of cinema presents the house of Yoko's parents at her arrival. We can see just Yoko's mother in the last plane preparing food in a lit kitchen, then the kitchen is framed by the house guest room, which is at its turn framed by the doors and external walls of the house. Then the sound of a car is heard, and we more guess than see the arrival of Yoko and her father reflected in a glass door. Four planes in the same frame, with no move of the camera.

The story is minimalistic, and whoever looks for action risks to be deeply bored. The actors perform so well that the word 'perform' is not not adequate here, they live the characters. They seldom interact, they never stare in each others eyes, but rather look in different planes, same as the trains movements never intersect. They do however care for each other, and the story is a delicate one of familial solidarity and deep friendship in a world that may look frightening. These characters could have been part of a film by Ozu.
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art film devoid of life
Roland E. Zwick12 October 2006
A Japanese movie with a French title, "Café Lumiere" is a desultory tale of a young pregnant woman and her friendship with a local bookstore proprietor. As the movie is almost militantly anti-narrative in its stance, there really isn't much more one can provide in the way of helpful plot summary than that.

Director Hsiao-hsien Hou has opted for a Spartan style of film-making that hearkens back to such early Japanese masters as Yasujiro Ozu and Kenji Mizoguchi. Each scene consists of a single medium or long shot with no close-ups or edits whatsoever. The result is that we become so detached from the characters on screen that we find ourselves unengaged in their problems and their fates. And this turns out to be a particularly serious problem in this case because the spare screenplay offers us so little of interest to start with. The story consists mainly of Yoko wandering around the city or moping in her apartment as she goes about the tasks of her daily life. She rides on trains, entertains her visiting parents, spends infrequent moments with her storeowner friend - and that's about it: no revelatory conversations, no insights into character, no point or purpose beyond the prosaic surface. Admittedly, some of the compositions are stunning and the style is intriguing and hypnotic at first, but it soon loses its charm as the tedium of the narrative (or non-narrative) takes over.

The acting is consistently understated and naturalistic, but in a movie in which everybody just looks preoccupied and pensive, there really isn't much call for anything else.
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The beautiful, engrossing rhythms of life.
theskulI4227 January 2008
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'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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Oblique, beautiful, the past collides with the future as trains go by
OldAle125 November 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I can't say as much as I'd like to about this film, Hou's tribute to Ozu for the centenary of the Japanese master's birth, despite it being my favorite of the director's films since "Flowers of Shanghai", at least, and perhaps since "Good Men, Good Women". I was thoroughly entranced by the slim storyline of a young woman in …some large Japanese city, I'm not sure it's ever stated which….researching an early 20th-Century composer by visiting places he lived and worked in, finding out she's pregnant and dealing with her parents' stoical reactions to her prospects of single motherhood, and the potential budding romance – or at least very deep friendship – with a geeky bookstore owner/sound recordist. Like most or maybe all of Hou's films, this is so dependent on the visuals and the mood that it just doesn't translate well into words, at least not for this poor scribe; very little happens in the film, and yet there is a deep sense of melancholy and a powerful feeling for the lost world of the postwar Japanese master – though it is at the same time decidedly clear that our heroine Yôko (Yo Hitato, really superb) is more "free" in her choices now than she would have been in 1958 or so.

The many shots of trains, and the sequences involving Yôko's parents are really the only very obvious visual references to the earlier Japanese director's influence, but the whole of the film is permeated by a similar sense of generations in transition, of the scary new world awaiting those more interested in remembering history than creating new stories. DVD rental.
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I Often Dream Of Trains
crossbow010617 February 2008
How about walking into a minefield next, Mr. Director? This story, according to writer director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, is a tribute to the great Japanese director Yasojiro Ozu, (selected Ozu films that are essential viewing: Tokyo Story, Late Spring, Equinox Flower, I was Born But etc)and its about a young lady who at the beginning tells s male friend about the strange dreams she has been having. I smiled right away when the first image of the film came on, which was a commuter train. This young lady Yoko, played by Yo Hihito, goes to visit her parents and tells her mom matter of factly that she's pregnant with her Taiwanese boyfriend and has no intention of marrying the guy. Yoko then lives her life, spending time doing research with her male friend Hajime, who owns a second hand store. You can tell he likes her, and so do I. She wants to be independent. The use of trains, long shots of street scenes and a simple but intriguing plot make this an Ozu type film.While it doesn't reach Ozu's heights (that is near impossible), its very good. The consistency of mood, the suppression of emotions and the camera angles are also very much like Ozu. If not Setsuko Hara, I could see Yoko Tsukasa playing the character Yoko in this film if she was her age at the time of this film. The constant scenes of trains made me like the film even more. A very worthy effort.
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Aspiration of Ozu Masterworks Muddled by Lethargic Pacing and Character Weightlessness
Ed Uyeshima10 February 2006
I am a relative latecomer to the transcendent work of film auteur Yasujiro Ozu, whose masterfully understated views of Japanese life, especially in the post-WWII era, illuminate universal truths. Having now seen several of his landmark films such as 1949's "Late Spring" and 1953's "Tokyo Story", I am convinced that Ozu had a particularly idiosyncratic gift of conveying the range of feelings arising from intergenerational conflict through elliptical narratives and subtle imagery. It is Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's keen aspiration to pay homage to Ozu on his centenary with this generally enervating 2003 film. Among with co-screenwriter T'ien-wen Chu, Hsiao-hsien appears to get the visuals right but does not capture the requisite emotional weight that would have made the glacial pacing tolerable.

The story concerns Yôko, a young Japanese writer researching the life of mid-20th century Taiwanese composer Jiang Wen-Ye in Tokyo after coming back from Taiwan where she taught Japanese. After 25 drawn-out minutes of character set-up, she reveals to her father and stepmother that she is pregnant by one of her students in Taiwan. At the same time, Yôko's coffeehouse friend Hajime, who runs a used bookstore, has an obsession for trains and seems likely to be in love with her. Hsiao-hsien connects this slim plot line with a series of shots held for inordinately lengthy takes as the frame composition changes. There are also long stretches of silence as well as an abundance of scenes featuring trains. While these techniques are consistent with Ozu's style, Hsiao-hsien cannot seem to dive into the characters' psyches the way Ozu did with maximal fluidity and minimal theatrics, in particular, Yôko's plight seems rather non-committal in the scheme of the drama presented and her parents' reaction overly passive to hold much interest. In fact, the whole film has an atmosphere of exhaustion about it, which makes the film feel interminable.

The performances are unobtrusive though hardly memorable. J-pop music star Yo Hitoto brings a natural ease to Yôko, while Tadanobu Asano is something of a cipher as Hajime. The rest of the characters barely register, even Nenji Kobayashi and Kimiko Yo as Yôko's parents. Cinematographer Lee Ping-Bing provides expert work though he violates a cardinal rule of Ozu films by not keeping the camera stable during shots. Hitoto speak-sings the fetching pop song used over he ending credits, "Hito-Shian". The DVD includes an hour long, French-made documentary, "Métro Lumière", which actually does help provide some of the context for Hsiao-hsien's approach to the film. It includes excerpts from Ozu's films, in particular, "Equinox Flower", to show the parallels with this film though surprisingly no mention of either "Tokyo Story" or "Early Summer", the obvious basis for some of the scenes and situation set-ups. There are also edited interview clips of Hitoto, Asano and Hsiao-hsien, as well as the film's trailer.
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The grandaddy of disappointments
jandesimpson22 February 2006
No user comments from me for some time. It would be arrogant to suggest that I have fans out there who may be speculating why someone who for so long penned at least one review each week has remained largely silent. I can hardly remember the last time my words evoked a response but if by any chance someone may be wondering about my silence I can answer in one word - disappointment. For me the main reason for writing criticism is to impart enthusiasm for works that have excited and moved me in some way which is why my eulogies far outweigh adverse comments. If I ever venture into the latter territory it is generally to question something that I feel has been excessively praised. What I find disappointing about many of the films I have chanced to see recently is that several have been made by directors I very much admire; the two Chinese titans for instance, Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. How could the former for instance have conceived "Together", a facile foray into the "mystique" of musical talent beside which Wes Craven's "Music of the Heart" seems almost something of a masterpiece, or the latter's "House of Flying Daggers", yet another martial arts kids flick and nowhere near as much fun as Ryhei Kitamuru's "Azumi". Even Michael Haneke, the Austrian master of unease was way below his usual form with his Armageddon vision "Time of the Wolf" which somehow lacked the incisiveness that someone like Tarkovsky might have given to so potentially powerful a theme. I could go on and cite others but there would be little point. However the greatest disappointment of them all can hardly go unmentioned as it involves two directors whose work I absolutely reverence. I refer to the Taiwanese Hou Hsiao-Hsien's tribute to the Japanese Yasujiro Ozu on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, "Cafe Lumiere". How could such a great opportunity so sadly misfire? Try as I can - I have given it three viewings - I cannot discover the film's secrets. The storyline is basically very simple. A young Japanese woman returns to her home in Tokyo from a visit to Taiwan where she has been engaged on research into the work of a Taiwanese composer. She confronts her parents with the fact that she is pregnant by a Taiwanese boyfriend but is clear in her mind that she has no intention of marriage. In Tokyo her friend and confidante is a young bookseller whose main obsession is the local railway scene. When not sitting in his bookshop he is out and about making recordings of railway sounds. And that's about it. True there is a sort of homage to Ozu's minimalist style: long sequences without camera movement punctuated by carefully composed shots of settings (here, as occasionally in Ozu, trains and stations). What is missing is content. Ozu's films are carefully constructed studies of human relationship. His characters are vibrant and beautifully drawn with tensions between different generations always subtly realised. Perhaps he has only one basic message to impart, that life is disappointing, but the fascination of his work lies in the seemingly endless different ways he has of saying this. In Hou's tribute we have nothing but the disappointment of a curiously empty film.
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A test of patience...
perfect_circle2111 November 2006
I've given 'Kôhî jikô' a low score not because it was a bad movie, but because it doesn't do anything worth praising.

I've not seen any of Hsiao-hsien Hou's work before, but for the uninitiated (me included) 'Kôhî jikô' is advertised as a homage to Yasujiro Ozu. (A Japanese director whose last film was way, way in 1962) The film is an extremely sparse work...containing very little dialogue, story, music or emotion.

Yo Hitoto plays 'Yoko' a jobless, wandering character who spends her time in her local coffee shop or loosely investigating a Taiwanese composer she likes. Tadanobu Asano plays her friend, who works in a cd shop and occasionally indulges his otaku interest in trains. And that's about all it.

We watch as Yoko drinks coffee alone...walks around...waits for a train...catches a train...falls asleep on the train. The kind of mundane reality anybody in Japan can see on a daily basis. Hou captures these ordinary moments of these characters life, but without any meaning to these vignettes it's an entirely pointless film to make or watch.
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A Tokyo Story
politic19839 September 2017
Warning: Spoilers
2003 marked the centenary of the great Yasujiro Ozu's birth, and as such, films in tribute were made. One such film was Taiwanese director Hsiao-Hsien Hou's "Cafe Lumiere". With Ozu so associated with deep Japanese family drama, it may seem difficult to believe that a non-native can take on a film in tribute to him. But with subtle styling and nuances, Hou shows clear touches of Ozu's influence, while still maintaining enough individuality to steer it away from becoming an Ozu paint-by-numbers work of nothingness.

Yoko - played by Taiwanese-Japanese musician Yo Hitoto - is some sort of reporter-type who switches her time between Tokyo and Taiwan. Researching Taiwanese composer Wen-Ye Jiang (for some reason), she seeks out a cafe/bar the composer frequented when based in Tokyo. And that's about that: a film low on plot and slow in pace, it's in the nuances along the way that make this a tribute to the Japanese master.

Family and its changing nature is a theme hinted at throughout, with Yoko pregnant by her boyfriend in Taiwan. However, she has a somewhat blasé attitude towards the pregnancy, and indeed her boyfriend, unconcerned as to whether she sees him again, let alone allowing him to father his child, reflecting a modern decline in the nuclear family, and particular Japanese attitudes to sex and declining birth rate.

Her father seems unimpressed with her attitude, while her step- mother tries to do what she can to please her. Living in the countryside, their visiting her in her small Tokyo apartment is reminiscent of Ozu's "Tokyo Story", with the elders feeling out of place in the modern metropolis; her father maintaining a silence. Her lack of hospitality, with little to offer her parents - having to borrow food and sake from her older neighbours - shows a further distance from the family unit of today's youth, solely concerned by her own endeavours.

This mirrors Ozu's take on the empowerment of women, as seen in the likes of "Late Autumn", with young females shunning the traditional expectations placed upon them. Obviously four decades along the line, Yoko is quite content to tackle the pregnancy alone and go about her daily life as she pleases, continuing her research of Jiang - though still in early days, it would be interesting to see how this would continue, finding herself alone on a train station platform, feeling sick.

Trains are an important theme in "Cafe Lumiere", Hou choosing to use extensive shots of Tokyo's various forms of railed transportation. This again is reminiscent of some of Ozu's later works, with Tokyo's morphing into a modern day megalopolis - a confusing and sprawling mass of rail networks - a modern equivalent of Ozu's shots of neon lights growing on the landscape.

Sexpot Tadanobu Asano plays Hajime, Yoko's book shop worker friend and Tokyo rail network obsessive: recording the various sounds of Tokyo's trains and creating digital artwork based on trains. The sounds he records, such as the infamous Yamanote Line station announcements are part of modern day Tokyo life. As an outsider, it's clear that the transport network was a distinctive point of Tokyo for Hou.

The extensive use of shots of changes slowly moving across bridges and weaving between bridges while a disgustingly beautiful shot the modern world summarise the film's slow pace. Low on story, you can't help but feel that the film's running time could be drastically cut. Hou captures life as it happens: trains trundle along; Yoko walks around Tokyo's various districts, taking breaks to sit in cafes and chat in bookshops. This is a documentation, the cast less acting, but filmed as they go about the tasks they are asked to perform. Watched in sections, "Cafe Lumiere" can work, but altogether, it can perhaps be a little repetitive and needing a bit of a kick-start.

This is not masterful work, but a well-considered homage and "Cafe Lumiere" can stand alone as a good piece of cinema, though perhaps knowing it is an Ozu tribute adds a little more to it in the audience's mind. Though perhaps this restaurant main could have been condensed to a cafe light lunch.
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The Anti-Ozu
aghaemi11 July 2014
Selected people in the West know Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. They generally agree that the director's films are icons of emotional filmmaking. Watch his Tokyo Story, for instance, without your eyes welling up and you might be made of stone.

Cafe Lumiere is a film commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Ozu. The old familiar Studio Shochiku logo - under whose banner Ozu filmed many classics - depicting Mount Fuji starts Cafe Lumiere. The next two thematic shots are emblematic of Ozu. The sights of trains chugging along and an unextraordinary girl (Yoko played by Japanese pop singer Yo Hitoto whose song is heard here) are emblematically Ozu. One sees the trains, the girl, sights and sounds of Japan and interior shots. They even borrow foodstuff and utensils from the neighbours (or landlord here) as in Tokyo Story. That is where the comparisons stop however. In particular, where Ozu's tangible emotions were better than any in the history of cinema Hsiao-hsien Hou's Cafe Lumiere is in fact the opposite. Apparently, stationary tatami shots alone a masterpiece do not make. More on this a little later.

Yoko is back from Taiwan and carries news. She has been teaching Japanese in Taiwan and simultaneously researching Taiwanese composer Jiang Wenye. Beyond that, there is little one would call a plot. Nothing much happens and the film progresses and ends as it began, which is casually and for no good reason. The sights of Tokyo trains, and snippets of Takasaki where she hails from and her family still lives, take prominence in a tale of indifference and lackadaisical modernity. If routine human behaviour and norms are interesting then Cafe Lumiere wins. Indeed, the actors admit to a lack of rehearsals as the director enforced little practise and opted for long shots in which he invited the cast to simply be themselves in lieu of scripted acting. From this comes an everyday disengagement that is the hallmark of this film. Whereas with Ozu emotions are thick and palpable and stretch out from the screen to affect the viewer in Cafe Lumiere we find unfeeling, barren, asexual disengagement. This might be the director's aim - one constantly sees trains on divergent tracks either travelling in opposite directions or crisscrossing in Ochanomizu - to show how Ozu's forebodings of a changing Japan have now come to pass and nothing means anything where parents are powerless and the younger generation cares less. What is sure, however, is Cafe Lumiere evokes complete dismal detachment. And that is why its comparisons to Ozu's body of work is minimal only and superficial at best.

If storyline and gripping involvement are as far away in this film as musicality is from a rap album what else is there? For Tokyo enthusiasts there are clear shots of Tokyo train locales and street cars. The bookstore is near Minowabashi Station. Yoko is at the Nippori Station on the Keisei line in Arakawa where she rents a locker and at Koenji when walking by and visiting a book store. Viewers also see train bridges in Ginza, a clear shot of Senzoku-ike (station) entrance and the Ochanomizu Station, which has an interesting name. She also travels to Takasaki and is picked up at that city's train station. It is ideal for a train enthusiast like her friend Hajime-chan (played by Tadanobu Asano) who incidentally recently has gained prominence through his Hollywood adventures. The ordinary sights of Japan and the passersby are almost more interesting than the meagre script.

Another thing bears mentioning. The film was financed by the studio to reminisce Ozu, but why a Taiwanese director was brought in is somewhat questionable and especially given the debatable comparisons and result. In the DVD extras the director devotes time to his appreciation of Ozu. Hsiao-hsien Hou, in turn, cast Yo Hitoto who is half-Taiwanese and made her quest of a Taiwanese artist the subplot. Also in Cafe Lumiere is Kimiko Yo (who can be seen in the superlative Departures) who is an actress of Taiwanese background in Japan.

Cafe Lumiere is not alone in contemporary Japanese cinema in moving slowly or skewing convention or plot, but and as much as one might casually enjoy following and observing Yoko as she goes about her day, Cafe Lumiere had set itself up by associating itself with Ozu and is ultimately just mundane.
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Arghgghghgh! Hulk smash!
Delly9 February 2006
It's official, folks -- Hou Hsiao-Hsien doesn't have a thought in his pretty little head. Are you wondering why he chose Shu Qi as his muse?

Shu ( or is that Qi? ) doesn't appear in this one. Instead we get a snaggletoothed Yo Hitoto, apparently a pop star in Japan -- judging by her song at the end, she's a pop star just like the girl who serves you at Rockin' Curry is "a actriss" -- and a wasted Tadanobu Asano, typically an indicator of quality, who is required to do nothing here but stand around and look like a mumbling Asian hipster and is too old to manage even that.

Hou's philosophy? Life is limbo, a big nothing, feel it and move on. I'd like to do that but Hou gives us nothing to feel in Cafe Lumiere beyond a bland photo essay of Life in Tokyo Circa 2003 and the flabbergasting observation that people are ships that pass in the night, no, make that trains that pass in the day, never connecting, each hurtling to its own destination, usually some variant of a dark tunnel or maybe a bridge if they're lucky. Yikes. Flowers of Shanghai is one of the most rarefied, technically accomplished and mesmerizing films of all time. How could the same director who created the opening shot of that film, which features about twelve actors conversing at machine-gun speed for about ten straight minutes -- an impossible directorial feat -- get trapped making this laconic sub-Jarmusch reality porn for two films in a row now? Millennium Mambo may be dead weight, but at least it has two great shots, shots that hint at Hou's true calling as the film equivalent of Odilon Redon: Those shots are the sex scene with the arrhythmically blinking lights and the opening shot of Shu Qi floating down a blue corridor. His M.O. while making Cafe Lumiere seems to have been to remove the two great shots from Millennium Mambo to make it more consistent. You be the judge if that sounds appealing.

Hou does not need to refine -- you cannot refine the limbo idea further than Flowers of Shanghai. He needs to expand, to bloat outwards, to release the inner expressionist and genre-revitalizer that is being squandered so senselessly on clichéd minimalism. It's time for him to do a live-action remake of Akira or something. This kind of art film where the actors are supposed to be authentic because they are held facelessly in long-shot and speak in monosyllables is now every last bit as safe, ghettoized and stagnant as the Hollywood action blockbuster. ( What is the connection between "reality" and people who can't talk? It seems to me that people "in real life" never stop jabbering. ) Then again, considering that 2005 alone brought big-budget movies as diverse and rich in ideas as Aeon Flux, The Island, and King Kong, it's now safe to say that even Michael Bay has surpassed Hou, and that's really sad.

The good news is that, though Hou is in his 50s, it frankly feels to me as if he hasn't even begun. There are a couple moments in this film that show the promise is still there, such as a moody bit early on in the bookstore when the room dims to a bloody sunset-red while Hitoto talks about babies with the faces of goblins. But whatever fear is holding him back, however comfortable it is to make the same film over and over and be hailed by the gullible and pretentious as the savior of cinema, Hou, your time as the darling of the Rotterdam, Venice, Toronto, Berlin and whatever else film festivals is almost up and people are catching onto your ruse double-quick. Two words for you: Atom Egoyan. Two more words, or maybe three: Tsai Ming-Liang. You are now cribbing from both of these tedious frauds who are about to go up their own dark tunnels forever. Risk your shirt on a sci-fi epic, sell out, be reviled -- but leave the social critiques to people that have no eye and no heart. Let your painterly talent express itself to the full. You're not going to ever get out of limbo otherwise.
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Nothing is lost in translation
tangoviudo29 March 2006
Cafe Lumiere is a beautifully photographed nullity. Unacquainted with the work of the director, I am well-acquainted with the filmmaker he is supposedly paying tribute to - Ozu Yasujiro. While not even approaching Ozu in greatness, Hou has communicated nothing of Ozu's depth of emotion and concentration on meaning within a closed space. One of the things he misses entirely is Ozu's attention to character - we are not even "introduced" by Hou to his lead character (a perfect blank page). There are no medium or close shots of his people. One of the DVD extras offers interviews with the actors and gives us precisely what Hou doesn't - a good look at their faces.

There was a great Spanish film by Bardem called Nunca Pasa Nada, which translates to something like "Nothing Ever Happens". That would be a far better title to this pointless exercise. All through the film we are given clues about an obscure Taiwanese composer some of whose work we hear on the soundtrack. But the clues, like everything else, add up to nothing. Unless you're a trainspotter, this film has nothing to recommend it.
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Not everybody's cup of tea
YNOTswim26 March 2006
This is a film by Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou, paying tribute to the 100th birthday of the legendary Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. This is not a film everybody will enjoy, or even remotely understand. This is a film for scholars and film school students, and for those who love Yasujiro Ozu and admire Hsiao-hsien Hou.

The film is about a young woman living in Tokyo. She is researching on a Taiwanese jazz musician in the 1930s. She came home and told her parents that she is pregnant by her Taiwanese boyfriend in a matter of fact fashion, and she has no intention to marry him. She likes to hang out with a friend who runs a used book store and likes to tape the sounds of trains in Tokyo. There is nothing more to the plot. It's not a melodrama, although it is extremely slow.

The film uses a lot low light and put the camera far away to quietly observe the daily lives of these characters, without any emphasis nor judgment. Simply observe. It portraits the modern lives in our industrial society, people are cold, lonely, disconnected, and invisible even you see them everywhere. Several times in the film, it shows the scene of passing trains at the same time on different levels in an overpass and toward different directions. It resembles people who run around on the streets all the time, but they never interact with each other and they never collide, unless there is an accident.

Andrew Sun wrote this on The Hollywood Reporter about this film:

"The fact is if you can stay awake through the whole 100 minutes, you should get a medal for being a resilient movie die-hard." I am gonna collect my medal since I didn't miss a minute during the film today.
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Slow, Meditative and Beautiful
Cheetah-67 October 2006
This ain't no Hollywood movie, it isn't even the run of the mill foreign film. It is pure Japanese Zen. The isolation of the crowd – lack of meaningful contact between humans – In Yoko's family more words mean less- A soulful sort of warmth exists between Yoko and the book store friend, he searches for something significant in recording of train sounds- The warmest exchange is between Yoko, her mother and a neighbor during a scene of borrowing sake and a glass for the father- who is a walking stone sculpture. The father of the unborn child is a mysterious stranger to us the viewer and is only referred to but never seen. One young woman and her relationship with trains is as significant as any human contact in her life.

At any point in this film you can push pause and have an interesting photograph to ponder – every scene is a composed beauty.
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