So first you need to drive yourself down to the Quick-Trip and get one of the big cups – I’m talking like the 44 oz or the 60 oz and fill it with lots of colored caffeinated chemicals and while your at it add some peanut M&M’s, maybe some Rolos, maybe some Twizzlers… and then screw it, just throw in the Ben & Jerry’s Coffee, Coffee Heath Crunch. Only with this arsenal will novices be able to stay awake through the meandering delicate fold that is Café Lumière. Subtle cinema aficionados will not need this of course…they may have to pop a few downers their excitement will be that intense for all of the non-talking and non-action.
Young Yôko wonders the streets of the Shibuza district attempting to unravel the mystery of a dead underground composer for her research thesis. Yôko is also pregnant but doesn’t seem to know, care or think about who the father is and instead, continues blandly/blindly on in search of her thesis subjects old haunts, homes and loves. Her sidekick, played by the overwhelmingly underappreciated Japanese actor, Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer, Last Life in the Universe, Mongol), is in love with her naturally. But he can barely speak. His world is the audible sound and instead of telling Yôko about his feelings, he feeds her the very real sound of the subway trains he records. Like his heartbeat.
Made as a tribute to Yasujirô Ozu (1903–1963) who crafted Tokyo Story (1953), it is, like all my favorites, essentially plot-less and extremely slow to yield any kind of development. But that is why you bought all of that candy amirite?! Ozu was a master of the non-movement camera movement. It is said that Ozu moved the camera less and less and in his color films he stopped moving the camera altogether – no tracking shots….nothing. This technique heightens the feeling of the viewer being submersed in a static world and forces the attention completely on the characters mood and situational happenstance. Ozu most notably depicts a strong female character that is a departure from the norm in her intelligence and non-traditionalism. The Taiwanese director of Café Lumière, Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon, Millennium Mambo) correctly and categorically captured these lines and voices of the great Ozu, and of Japanese society.
This is a story about two people so reticent they are unable to connect to an emotional present and instead focus on anything outside of themselves to attempt to thwart that connection. It is also the story of the disillusionment and ‘faded moral standards’ of conservative Japan and of counter culture that doesn’t really know what to do with itself. Highly recommend.