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Café Lumiere
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Tadanobu Asano and Yo Hitoto in Café Lumiere.
Year: 2003  
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien  
  Cast: Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano, Masato Hagiwara, Kimiko Yo, Nenji Kobayashi
  The Skinny: Hou Hsiao-Hsien's aimless, train-filled tribute to Yasujiro Ozu will likely test the patience of even the most forgiving of audiences, but whether or not there's a reward waiting at the end of the line is highly debatable.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Commissioned to celebrate the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth, Café Lumiere can be summed up in a paragraph: Yo Hitoto plays Yoko, a young woman who is visiting her father (Nenji Kobayashi) and stepmother (Kimiko Yo) in Tokyo. She returns from Taiwan with news that she is pregnant by her former Taiwanese student, but she has no plans to get married. Of course, her parents want the best for her, but they can't quite communicate with Yoko (especially her father), nor can she express herself very well to them. Yoko is friends with Hajime (Tadanobu Asano), the owner of a secondhand bookstore that she frequents on occasion. Hajime is a serious train buff and spends his free time recording the sounds of trains. The two seem to share a connection. Will a romance bloom between the two friends? Well, if you're asking that question, you're already watching the wrong movie.
     As a film, Café Lumiere unfolds in a highly voyeuristic fashion, as we watch Yoko sleepwalk through life - drinking coffee, riding the train, and engaging in otherwise banal conversations that don't quite amount to anything. Meanwhile, nearly everything is shot in long takes with ample use of silences. To use a familiar phrase, nothing happens. Now, I wouldn't go so far as to use the dreaded words "dull" or "boring," but it's not exactly a compelling viewing experience either. There's no momentum to the film; it's listless and to be fair, perhaps intentionally so. But while the film often plays out as if you're eavesdropping on random conversations, the problem here is that in real life you always have the option to stop listening and read the newspaper instead. But here, the experience goes on and on.
     Don't get me wrong - Café Lumiere is by no means a terrible movie; it's just that the barely-there narrative leaves you with such an empty feeling that it's hard to know what you were supposed to get out of the experience. While yes, the film does focus on every day occurrences, I came away wondering if ordinary people are really that ordinary. Life just doesn't seem that bland, and if it was, what's the motivation for translating that to the big screen? I'll be the first to admit that I probably don't "get" Hou Hsiao-Hsien. For those who do, Café Lumiere might be an interesting ride, but be forewarned, the train goes nowhere. (Calvin McMillin, 2007)

• The film was originally meant to be a three-part anthology to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth, but the other two directors bowed out before principal photography commenced.
• The US DVD includes "Métro Lumière," an hour-long French documentary which contains footage from some of Ozu's films. The insightful interviews with Hou, Asano, and Hitoto are highly illuminating, no matter what your opinion of the film may be.
• According to Asano, the film went through at least two rough cuts before the final version was released in theatres. Curiously, Asano's and Hitoto's favorite scenes were excised from the final edit.


2005 Awards of the Japanese Academy
• Winner - Newcomer of the Year (Yo Hitoto)
2004 Venice Film Festival
• Nomination - Golden Lion (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)


Region 1 NTSC
Fox Lorber
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English Subtitles,
Making-Of Featurette, Interviews, Trailer

DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
  Copyright ©2002-2017 Ross Chen