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.
The story revolves around Yoko Inoue, a pregnant woman in search for a cafe that's frequented by a Taiwanese composer whose life she is researching.
October 12, 2020