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|Index||27 reviews in total|
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
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
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.
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.
*** This review may contain 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.
*** This review may contain 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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