Kôhî jikô   2003   Japan, Taiwan Café Lumière
Café Lumière Image Cover
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Director:Hsiao-hsien Hou
Studio:Shochiku Company
Writer:Hsiao-hsien Hou, T'ien-wen Chu
IMDb Rating:7.0 (1,446 votes)
Awards:2 wins & 1 nomination
Duration:103 min
Hsiao-hsien Hou  ...  (Director)
Hsiao-hsien Hou, T'ien-wen Chu  ...  (Writer)
Yo Hitoto  ...  Yôko
Tadanobu Asano  ...  Hajime Takeuchi
Masato Hagiwara  ...  Seiji
Kimiko Yo  ...  Yôko no keiba
Nenji Kobayashi  ...  Yôko no otôsan
Pin Bing Lee  ...  Cinematographer
Ping Bin Lee  ...  Cinematographer
Comments: You have to like trains, find them romantic or aesthetically pleasing in order to enjoy this movie to the fullest: there's a train going by; there she is walking to the train; there she is getting on the train; there she is on the train; there she is getting off the train; there she is walking away from the train ... cut. Rinse and repeat.

Having said that, she, Yo Hitoto, a Japanese singer making her film debut here, is fabulous. I enjoyed her 'hmm', 'hai', 'mmm', 'grunt' style acting. I've never heard acting like it before. She gives a very natural and genuine performance. She's great. Her mom and dad are great. Tadanobu Asano is here. He's a good enough actor that you can sense his muted desire in subtle ways. Almost every minute of people interaction in this film, even in silence, is superb. But the film is padded with a lot of train rides and walking.

I assume we are to live with Hitoto's internals while she is traveling around doing nothing. The problem (or contradiction) with that approach is that we are presented with a character who appears not to have much going on inside, problem-wise. She is overtly presented as someone rather carefree. The spectacular scene where her parents come to visit and she speaks her mind about the man who made her pregnant gave me no sense that it was troubling to her. This seems at odds with the desire of the film. Or else it's genius. I was touched by (what turned out to be) the end of the film, until it turned out to be the end of the film. Hitoto's reaction both times to waking up to Asano's character: the first time when she has the flu and the second time at the end of the film, were lovely as could be. I give Hou high marks for reiterating the theme, and for making it obvious the first time and subtle the second but sadly, final time. Waking up to the little joys in life, done without fanfare. Hou does possess a subtle brilliance.

I understand what Hou is trying to do. I really think I get this thing. Well ... a couple things. One is the pace, creating a tempo, a rhythm. The other is creating a scenario with compelling characters that is deep enough to be immersive but not thick enough to proceed and resolve in traditionally expected ways. Basically, we should be left wanting more. We're given the gift of letting our imaginations fill in the blanks. That's a good thing. I just think Hou filled Cafe Lumiere with a little too much un-engaging material, although the Taiwanese director did highlight, very well, many of the family and generational issues that show up as the theme in many of the best Japanese films.The nonchalance of the daughter towards her pregnancy is not an approach her parents share. Nor is her un-romantic, pragmatic view of the man who made her pregnant.

I am suspicious of (these whatever generation) film makers who employ the nothingness technique in the name of realism. I think some of them are jerks who just want to be challenging, some of them are inept and don't realize they aren't succeeding in making something good, and some of them do things that appeal to others but not to me.

I'm not against the technique. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. And sometimes trains, or at least train tracks, are used very effectively.

Summary: A freelance writer living in Tokyo defies social taboo by choosing life as a single mother in director Hou Hsiao-Hsien's meditative tribute to acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. When Yoko announces that she is pregnant and has no intentions of marrying the father of her child, her traditional family is outraged. Though the headstrong decision made by the young mother-to-be leaves her finding little sympathy from within her family circle, a blossoming friendship with the owner of a local second-hand bookstore goes a long way in alleviating Yoko's feelings of loneliness. As Yoko begins to re-evaluate her increasingly complicated life, her newfound friend silently pines for her despite his frustrating inability to vocalize his true feelings.

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