Film-Forward Review: [CAFÉ LUMIÈRE]

Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Directed by: Hou Hsiao-hsien.
Produced by: Liao Ching-Sung, Hideshi Miyajima, Fumiko Osaka, & Ichiro Yamamoto.
Written by: Hou Hsiao-hsien & Chu T’ien-wen.
Director of Photography: Lee Ping-Bing.
Edited by: Liao Ching-sung.
Released by: Wellspring.
Language: Japanese with English subtitles.
Country of Origin: Japan/Taiwan. 103 min. Not Rated.
With: Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano, Masato Hagiwara, Kimiko Yo & Nenji Kobayashi.
DVD Features: Interviews with Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano & Hou Hsiao-hsien. Métro Lumière documentary. Trailer.

Café Lumière is Taiwanese visionary Hou Hsiao-hsien`s homage to one of Japan's most beloved masters, Yasujiro Ozu, on the centenary of his birth. In this decidedly placid tale, Yoko (pop star Yo Hitoto), a young freelance writer, returns from her trip to Taiwan pregnant. She reveals the news to her loving, yet painfully conservative parents and subsequently announces she has no intentions of marrying the father. Yoko`s stoic independence keeps her parents at bay, as she goes about her secluded life as if nothing has changed. She spends her days searching all over Tokyo for recordings of Jiang Wenye, an early-20th-century Taiwanese composer who studied in Japan. Tagging along for the search is Hajime (Tadanobu Asano), a used bookstore clerk secretly in love with Yoko.

From the opening shot of a streetcar to the low-angle shots into Yoko's parents home, fans of Ozu will see shots and hear dialogue lovingly extracted from Ozu's seminal film Tokyo Story. But the calculated use of lighting and composition throughout the cityscapes is entirely Hou's own. He especially manages to capture amazingly complex and beautiful shots of the Tokyo metro. Whether Hou's unconventional disregard for plot works well with Ozu`s subject of Japanese domestic drama is debatable, however. At the irresolute conclusion, fans of Ozu might miss the prescient message that the director had always injected into his films. Hou, as well as first-time performer Hitoto and Japanese art-house favorite Asano, succeed in capturing the feeling of urban solitude in a naturalistic way that Ozu might have favored himself, but what Café Lumière ultimately lacks is the emotional resonance that Ozu would have allowed his viewers to take away from his film.

DVD Extra: For fans of Hou Hsiao-hsien, the DVD extras are a delectable treat. Along with Yo Hitoto and Tadanobu Asano, Hou opens up in his interview segment. The real find, though, is the Metro Lumière documentary, which is almost an hour's worth of an in-depth interview with the director. It explores Hou`s history, his rise as a filmmaker, and most importantly, how he, a Taiwanese director, went about making a film like Café Lumière, whose focus is so soulfully Japanese. Marie Iida
December 28, 2005



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