Café Lumière (Japan/Taiwan; 103 min.)

directed by: Hsiao-hsien Hou
starring: Yo Hitoto; Tadanobu Asano; Masato Hagiwara
Kôhî jikô

Bruce says: "CAFÉ LUMIÈRE is Hou Hsaio-hsien’s tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, the Japanese master whose films are noted for their breathtaking beauty and their gentle narrative of everyday life. Ozu’s great attentions to the details of the environment his characters inhabit give the viewer historical insight. I have read of comparisons of CAFÉ LUMIÈRE to TOKYO STORY but, of the Ozu films I have seen, the more likely comparison is to EARLY SUMMER. Although Hou is Taiwanese, this film is shot in Japan and features Japanese actors.

"Yoko (To Hitoto) is a young freelance writer who has her own apartment and an independent lifestyle. She travels a lot and is currently working on a piece about Taiwanese composer Jiang Wenye. Her best friend is a young bohemian man Hajime (Tadanobu Asano) who owns a local bookshop. She hangs out there and at a nearby café. Occasionally she visits her parents who are nearing retirement age and wish their daughter would get married.

"When Yoko returns from one of her trips to Taiwan she announces that she is pregnant and has no intention of marrying the child’s father, a Taiwanese industrialist whose family is old fashioned, keeping their women either in the family business or close to the hearth. Hajime doesn’t bat an eye over the news but he becomes slightly more attentive to Yoko. When a mutual friend tells Yoko that a young girl brazenly strolled into the bookshop and asked the owner out on a date, Yoko does show some interest in the outcome. Are Yoko and Hajime in love? We never know for sure. Perhaps they don’t know that, either - at least not yet.

"In the post-war period of Ozu films such as EARLY SUMMER many women wear traditional dress and others, like Noriko, prefer western attire. Yoko is a fully modern woman wearing jeans and skimpy tops although her stepmother still defers to tradition while at home. In EARLY SUMMER Noriko belabors marrying the choice of her parents or the man she prefers. Yoko doesn’t really care what her family thinks; she is determined to raise the child on her own without assistance from parents or her Taiwanese boyfriend. Both Noriko and Yoko are products of their time.

"Hajime likes to ride the trains and capture the sounds on tape. Trains have a great presence in CAFÉ LUMIÈRE. Three trains crisscross on different levels as they wind their way along a river and through tunnels under densely built high-rises. The trains are beautiful to watch as they move in isolation – so close but yet so far – similar to the people who populate CAFÉ LUMIÈRE and Ozu's films. CAFÉ LUMIÈRE is a lovely film and a fitting tribute. 4.5 cats"

Chris says: "Two years after first hitting the festival circuit, this outing by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien finally gets a theatrical run in Boston (coinciding with its DVD release, oddly enough). Don't miss it--of all his films that I've seen, it might be my favorite.

"Commissioned for the cenntenary of Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu's birth, CAFE LUMIERE is somewhat a tribute to him. Hou's first film entirely set in Japan, it follows Yoko (Yo Yohito), a young woman researching the life of Jiang Wenye, a 20th Century Taiwanese composer who lived in Japan for many years. Apart from her parents and people she interviews for her book on Wenye, the only other primary character is her friend, Hajime (Tadanobu Asano, from LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE and BRIGHT FUTURE), a quiet used-bookseller who loves to record the sounds of Tokyo subways.

"As with most of the director's films, very little seems to happen (apart from one significant thing for Yoko) and it does so at a languid pace. At least 10% of the film is set inside or near a subway train. And yet, provided you don't doze off, what unfolds can be absolutely hypnotic. Hou studies the natural, unflashy rhythms of day-to-day Japanese life, subtly revealing beauty and grace in something as mundane as a storefront sign. Wenye's avant-classical piano music perfectly accompanies this, and, true to its title, the film often projects a warm, radiant glow. 4.5 cats"
Michael says: "This lovely film by Hou Hsiao-hsien languished without distribution for
nearly two years after its debut at Cannes. It appeared on many lists of best undistributed films, and I am hard pressed to see what the difficulty was. CAFÉ LUMIÈRE was commissioned to honor the 100th birthday of the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, whose work shows the beauty of ordinary life. In CAFÉ LUMIÈRE, Hou Hsiao-hsien focuses on Yoko, a young Japanese woman who is doing research on a book about Taiwanese composer Jiang Wenye. She spends her time visiting her boyfriend in Taiwan, hanging out with her friend Hajime (played with taciturn stillness by Chlotrudis nominee Tadanobu Asano), researching her book, and visiting her family in the country. Underlying the gentle rhythms of Yoko's life are the gentle rhythms of the city she lives in, most notably the transit system. Hou spends considerable time filming trains threading through the city, and Hajime spends his free
time recording the sounds of the trains; every train and station having its own unique sounds.

"Very little happens in CAFÉ LUMIÈRE, and more important than what actually occurs is how it slowly and gently unfolds. As in his recent festival film THREE TIMES, and his earlier film MILLENNIUM MAMBO, there is a contrast, almost but not quite a tension between modern life and the more traditional lifestyle of the past. Yoko's parents have trouble understanding the life Yoko has chosen; her lack of desire to get married, her tiny, poorly stocked apartment. It's difficult explaining the appeal of Hou Hsiao-hsien's films, but the calm ebb and flow of life is so beautifully captured that it is clear that there is a master behind the camera. 4 1/2 cats"