by Hou Hsiao-hsein
Celebrated Taiwanese auteur, Hou Hsiao-hsien, created this low-key Japanese-language drama in honor of the centenary of the birth of Japanese golden-age filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu. It charts a brief period in the life Yoko, a young Japanese writer and scholar of Taiwanese classical music. Having discovered that she is pregnant with her Taiwanese boyfriend's child, she travels around her native Tokyo visiting family and friends and attempting to make sense of her future. In both form and content Café Lumière is a transnational hybrid, bringing together elements of Japanese and Taiwanese culture. Throughout the film, Hou pursues a heightened version of Ozu's elliptical long-take style and off-centered narration that feels like a natural extension of the high-modernist aesthetic he perfected in Flowers of Shanghai (1998). Hou also clearly revels in special quality of the Japanese sunlight, the geometric architecture of the houses and businesses, and the distinctive atmosphere of the Tokyo train system that was a ubiquitous presence in Ozu's films. In fact, the male lead Hajime (played by Japanese cult star Tadanobu Asano) who serves as a kind of stand in for Hou, spends much of his time recording train-sounds for a multi-media art project. This film-within-a-film serves to draw viewers attention to the non-visual elements of Hou's art, while also anticipating that multi-layered structure that the director would pursue in the charming Flight of the Red Balloon (2007).