Shochiku Studio of Japan commissioned several directors to create films reflecting on the themes of Ozu Yasujiro on the centenary of the director's birth. Here we find Inoue Yoko, an apparently single young woman who is pregnant, searching for a small cafe that was often visited by a Taiwanese composer whose life she is researching. She herself is back from Taiwan and receiving help from a book store clerk, but she first has to contend with the her own reality which includes her parents.Written by
Not a satisfactory Ozu homage, but Hou is always stylish
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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