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Cafe Lumiere [Import]

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Product Details

  • Actors: Yo Hitoto, Tadanobu Asano, Masato Hagiwara, Kimiko Yo, Nenji Kobayashi
  • Directors: Hsiao-Hsien Hou
  • Writers: Hsiao-Hsien Hou, T'ien-wen Chu
  • Producers: Ching-Song Liao, Fumiko Osaka, Hideji Miyajima, Ichirô Yamamoto, Nobuyuki Kajikawa
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, Subtitled, NTSC, Import
  • Language: English, Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: NR
  • Studio: Fox Lorber
  • Release Date: Dec 27 2005
  • Run Time: 103 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • ASIN: B000BQ5J1I

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By M. B. Alcat TOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 19 2007
Format: DVD
"Cafe Lumiere" is the homage that Hou Hsiao-hsien, a Taiwanese director, paid to Yasujiro Ozu, a Japanese director renowned for the way in which he managed to depict the dynamics of family life and the inner life of his characters.

Did he succeed? I think so, due to the fact that he manages to put the spectator in the place of Yoko, a young woman that is pregnant but doesn't feel like marrying her boyfriend, a grown man that remains too attached to his mother. As we watch "Cafe Lumiere", we want to know what she thinks, and how she is going to react to the new development in her life. The spectator is also interested in her friend, a bookstore owner that seems romantically interested in Yoko, and that has an unlikely but strangely poetic hobby.

Are you likely to enjoy this movie? I really don't know, because "Café Lumiere" is a peculiar movie, the kind that some love, but others hate. I can tell you that it is a beautifully made film that pays extraordinary attention to little details, but that has an extremely open ending. Can you like that kind of film? According to your answer, you will know what to do...

- Belen Alcat, June 2007 -

PS: I liked "Café Lumiere" well enough to give it at least 3 stars out of 5.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Gentle and Subtle Feb. 8 2006
By Amy E. C. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
This is a very different kind of storytelling. Everything is shown, almost nothing is told. You have to be keen to pick up the clues, but the scenes are all so quiet that it's too easy to think nothing is happening. Often, even the placement of the camera is telling you something.

It's a slow, gentle, slice-of-life look at one modern woman's relationships. Not for everyone.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Excellent film; definitely a work of art. March 4 2009
By Martin Montana - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
In the special presentation segment, an interview with the director,
Hou Hsiao-hsien in Taiwan, he comments that Japanese viewers felt he strongly captured the essence of Japanese cultural life. The wonder of this film is it's subtlety in showing the aesthetic of the characters. Woody Allen for instance exaggerates characters and focuses on the dysfunction and weaknesses of the characters. Here, the characters are faced with the dilemma of having a life, but also facing an unexpected pregnancy. The don't, however whine and complain or have psychological breakdowns.
As cinema, this is a 5 star gem. All of the visuals are magnificent.
This accomplishment was not accidental; much planning and re-shooting of scenes was required to make this film look so easy. As another reviewer mentioned, the title has historical reference to the Lumiere brothers as pioneers in film; and the train sequences both visually and audio are wonderful. I am curious if a foley artist was used for some of the sounds inside the train or if they were dubbed in from real life.
Re Ozu, the clips shown in the special segments, imo were much more harsh, crass, and unevolved aesthetically than the subject film.
The master would have approved Sept. 23 2014
By Film Buff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien is a critically acclaimed auteur whose work is maddeningly unavailable on DVD. Of his 20 films only three are currently being offered at prices collectors can afford. Can someone (Artificial Eye, are you reading?) please give us his films from the 80s/90s preferably in a couple of cheap box sets? The Boys From Fengkuei (1983), A Summer at Grandpa's (1984), A Time to Live, A Time to Die (1985), A City of Sadness (1989), The Puppetmaster (1993) and Good Men, Good Women (1995) all won prizes at major film festivals and it is criminal that we are denied a chance to see them. As it is we have only Three Times (2005), Flight of the Red Balloon (2008) and the film under review here, Café Lumière. Commissioned by Japan's Shochiku studio to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ozu Yasujirō's birth, the film was the first Hou made outside Taiwan and is an homage to the master of minimalism truly worthy of the name. Of course, it helps hugely that Hou's outlook is very similar to Ozu's anyway, but in Café Lumière he really does take the themes of Ozu's austere post war masterworks to their logical conclusions.

Ozu was a director primarily concerned with the world as seen through the eyes of the shomingeki (domestic family drama) and from Late Spring (1949) through to his final An Autumn Afternoon (1962) together with screenwriter Noda Kōgo he charted the social transition that took place in Japan following World War II and the resulting American occupation. He saw family as the center of Japanese society. Once tight and very protective of their own, families became looser after the war. Children (especially girls) received increasing freedom to go their own way without the traditional need for discussion or consensus. Each Ozu film saw the same themes centering on generation conflict being explored again and again. The films became increasingly spare, static, stark and despairing at (what Ozu thought of as) the deterioration of family values and the consequent transformation (break up?) of Japanese society. Late Spring centers on a father-daughter conflict with the daughter initially refusing to be married off, but it ends up a celebration of traditional values as they both accept their roles - she as a new wife and he as the single father who must stand alone. 12 years later An Autumn Afternoon finds Ozu in a much darker more cynical mood telling virtually the same story but including the advent of ugly new materialism and the significant secondary character of a drunken failure who ruins his daughter by holding on to her for too long. The film's bitter shōganai (`it can't be helped') ending is a far cry from the poised moving final shots of Late Spring.

In Café Lumière Hou takes this gradual disintegration of family life even further so that the film is in effect a shomingeki without the binding sense of home. Yoko (Hitoto Yo) is a young student/writer living alone in a Tokyo apartment. During a visit to her parents in the country during ōbon (the traditional summer-time period where family members get together to pay respects to the spirits of dead relatives which are said to come alive during this time) she reveals that she is pregnant with the baby of her Taiwanese boyfriend who she has no intention of marrying. She states her intention to have the baby and raise it on her own. Family relations are not tight. Her father (Hagiwara Masato) is silent, only capable of sitting, brooding and boozing. Her `mother' (Yo Kimiko) is not her biological mother. It's later revealed that the real mother left Yoko when she was four, giving herself up to a religious cult which is not specified. This could be a large religious organization like Sōga Gakkai, or perhaps a more sinister cult like Aum Shinrikyo - the organization responsible for the 1995 sarin gas subway attack. Mass public support for such religious groups is held by many in Japan to be symptomatic of a nation lacking moral backbone. Hou stresses the significance of the trauma of Yoko's childhood separation from her mother by featuring her nightmare and the book (Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There) which possibly explains it, linking her abandonment with the imminent arrival of her own child. Her new mother is not a bad sort and recognizes the need for the father to talk to his daughter about her future. But of course, the two say nothing to each other when they are left alone. In a fashion typical of many relationships between father and children in today's Japan, meaningful communication has all but broken down. Yoko takes solace in her work (researching the life of Taiwanese composer Jiang Wen-Ye whose real life widowed wife we get to meet and whose music permeates the soundtrack) and in her friends, a tempura cook (Kobayashi Nenji) and a bookshop owner named Hajime (Asano Tadanobu). He has an obsession with trains and recording the sounds of their movement which Yoko in turn gets caught up in.

As a long term resident here in Japan I can verify that in the film Hou gives us an accurate picture of modern society where the importance of family often gives way to the importance of friends. Like many young people here Yoko can't talk to her family even if she wants to, preferring her freedom and the support of Hajime who is offered up as a possible future partner. Key to the film are the numerous shots of trains and the computer program Hajime has designed, especially the picture of Yamanote Line trains arranged in a circular design around a foetus in the middle of a black hole. As we know from Ozu, trains denote the restless impermanence - the transience - of all things and in this film the city (the Yamanote Line is the circular line that loops around central Tokyo) becomes the surrogate parent for Yoko and her densha otaku (train nerd) possible partner. Of course we could also read it that the foetus is Yoko's baby and the trains represent her. She could well be transient impermanence personified.

I haven't seen enough Hou films to say if the mise-en-scène of Café Lumière is typical of him or not though some critics do say it is. It certainly does bear a resemblance to his next film, Three Times and (more relevant to the brief) the influence of Ozu is all-pervasive. With cameraman Mark Lee Ping Bin, Hou retains Ozu's preference for the long static take with little or no movement of the camera. When the camera does move it is in little pans either left or right. Cutting is the 180˚ kind as evidenced by the way Hajime's bookshop is seen first from the door and then later from the shop back. Yoko's family home is established in the same manner. The trademark Ozu low camera frames the room squarely with kotatsu (heated low table) firmly center of frame. Then the shot is reversed completely from the opposite direction. `Pillow shots' are not heavily evident, but the shots of train tracks are obvious examples which function as transition devices in a way the great man would have approved. Ozuian ellipsis of both time and space is much in evidence. Most obvious is the way Yoko leaves her home. She says she's going to borrow a bike and goes to a train station to look up an old friend who is asleep. The next thing we know she's in a coffee shop back in Tokyo. The ellipse tells us everything we need to know about the ennui she feels at her home-life and the fact she wants to escape it as quickly as possible. Spacial ellipses occur where characters talk to people who are off-screen with Hou (like Ozu) choosing to let us exercise our imaginations rather than simply showing us everything. The whole feel of Café Lumière is one of simple, subtle and delicate restraint. This may or may not be a Hou mainstay (judging from Three Times, I'd say it is), but it certainly does concur with Ozu. As other reviews posted here show, there are many for whom the film is so subtle that it appears to be about nothing at all. Actually, it taps into the confused transience of modern Japan with remarkable acuity. I recommend you watch closely and carefully because this film does work a spell over you in its own very quiet way. Ozu would have approved.

This ICA Projects disc is a model of its kind. The images are clean and very sharp (aspect ratio: 16:9) and the sound is well-balanced. The subtitles are also letter-boxed properly which is a good thing - they don't fall off the bottom of the screen like they do in some Artificial Eye discs I have bought! There are no extras which is a shame. Asian cinema expert Tony Rayns provides the subtitles, but it's a pity he couldn't add a commentary as well. He has probably done more than any other western critic to get Hou's name more recognized as his reviews for Time Out testify. Let's hope his efforts lead to more of his films being made available soon.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Great ode on so many levels Feb. 13 2013
By Paul Allaer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Movie: 3.5 stars; Bonus materials: 4.5 stars

"Cafe Lumiere" (2003 release from Japan; 104 min.) starts off with informing us that this movie is a homage to the centenary of the birth of famed Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. As the movie then stars, we follow a young woman, Yoko, as she lives her daily life. She takes care of her (very small) apartment in Tokyo. She goes to visit her parents in suburban Tokyo. She is following up on leads for a story she wants to write about a Taiwanese composer Jiang Wen-Ye, who ncame to Japan at a young age (and whose work is featured on the soundtrack). She even reveals that she is pregnant and has no intention to marry the baby-daddy, a far-away boyfriend in Taiwan. She also befriends a bookshop owner who in his spare time loves to record the sounds of the trains and tramcars in the vast public transportation system in Tokyo.

Several comments: the movie may puzzle some, as seemingly not much is happening, other than we follow Yoko in her daily life. But notice how much time is spent on the trains and tramways transportation system in Tokyo, which the director brings onto the screen at times almost like a ballet, just mesmorizing. But this movie should NOT be viewed in isolation. If you are, like I was, more or less ignorant about Japanese director Ozu, by all means make sure to check out the bonus materials of this DVD release, including interviews with the director and the actress portraying Yoko. Most essential of all is the bonus documentary called "Metro Lumiere", a 75 min. French documentary that delves into the nitty gritty of Japanese director Ozu, and how Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien became involved in this and ultimately directed the movie. After having seen the actual movie, I thought this documentary was simply fantastic in bringing new perspectives, and in that sense I rate it higher than the movie itself. A must-see for movie buffs.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The Anti-Ozu July 10 2014
By AliGhaemi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Selected people in the West know Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. They generally agree that the director's films are icons of emotional filmmaking. Watch his Tokyo Story (The Criterion Collection), for instance, without your eyes welling up and you might be made of stone.

Cafe Lumiere is a film commissioned to commemorate the centenary of the birth of Ozu. The old familiar Studio Shochiku logo - under whose banner Ozu filmed many classics - depicting Mount Fuji appears at the beginning of Cafe Lumiere. The next two thematic shots are emblematic of Ozu. The sights of trains chugging along and an unextraordinary girl (Yoko played by Japanese pop singer Yo Hitoto whose song is heard here) are emblematically Ozu. One sees the trains, the girl, sights and sounds of Japan and interior shots. They even borrow foodstuff and utensils from the neighbours (or landlord here) as in Tokyo Story. That is where the comparisons stop however. In particular, where Ozu's tangible emotions were better than any in the history of cinema Hsiao-hsien Hou's Cafe Lumiere is in fact the opposite. Apparently, stationary tatami shots alone a masterpiece do not make. More on this a little later.

Yoko is back from Taiwan and carries news. She has been teaching Japanese in Taiwan and simultaneously researching Taiwanese composer Jiang Wenye. Beyond that, there is little one would call a plot. Nothing much happens and the film progresses and ends as it began, which is casually and for no good reason. The sights of Tokyo trains, and snippets of Takasaki where she hails from and her family still lives, take prominence in a tale of indifference and lackadaisical modernity. If routine human behaviour and norms are interesting then Cafe Lumiere wins. Indeed, the actors admit to a lack of rehearsals as the director enforced little practise and opted for long shots in which he invited the cast to simply be themselves in lieu of scripted acting. From this comes an everyday disengagement that is the hallmark of this film. Whereas with Ozu emotions are thick and palpable and stretch out from the screen to affect the viewer in Cafe Lumiere we find unfeeling, barren, asexual disengagement. This might be the director's aim - one constantly sees trains on divergent tracks either travelling in opposite directions or crisscrossing in Ochanomizu - to show how Ozu's forebodings of a changing Japan have now come to pass and nothing means anything where parents are powerless and the younger generation cares less. What is sure, however, is Cafe Lumiere evokes complete dismal detachment. And that is why its comparisons to Ozu's body of work is minimal only and superficial at best.

If storyline and gripping involvement are as far away in this film as musicality is from a rap album what else is there? For Tokyo enthusiasts there are clear shots of Tokyo train locales and street cars. The bookstore is near Minowabashi Station. Yoko is at the Nippori Station on the Keisei line in Arakawa where she rents a locker and at Koenji when walking by and visiting a book store. Viewers also see train bridges in Ginza, a clear shot of Senzoku-ike (station) entrance and the Ochanomizu Station, which has an interesting name. She also travels to Takasaki and is picked up at that city's train station. It is ideal for a train enthusiast like her friend Hajime-chan (played by Tadanobu Asano) who incidentally recently has gained prominence through his Hollywood adventures. The ordinary sights of Japan and the passersby are almost more interesting than the meagre script.

Another thing bears mentioning. The film was financed by the studio to reminisce Ozu, but why a Taiwanese director was brought in is somewhat questionable and especially given the debatable comparisons and result. In the DVD extras the director devotes time to his appreciation of Ozu. Hsiao-hsien Hou, in turn, cast Yo Hitoto who is half-Taiwanese and made her quest of a Taiwanese artist the subplot. Also in Cafe Lumiere is Kimiko Yo (who can be seen in the superlative Departures) who is an actress of Taiwanese background in Japan.

Cafe Lumiere is not alone in contemporary Japanese cinema in moving slowly or skewing convention or plot, but and as much as one might casually enjoy following and observing Yoko as she goes about her day, Cafe Lumiere had set itself up by associating itself with Ozu and is ultimately just mundane.