Sunday, May 20, 2007

Kôhî Jikô (Café Lumière)

Yesterday I stopped by the very good video club near home and they had new titles so I picked up some (many) movies to watch during this weekend. Hate to wear my reading glasses –without them I cannot see a thing-, so I chose them by the cover. Go home, pick one and start watching. Café Lumière is the first one.

When I finished watching this movie my honest spontaneous reaction was, what a strange movie… but during its 135 (or so) minutes I could not get my eyes from the screen. By half the movie I said: where is the story? By the third quarter I said: there is no story; this is a slice of life. By the end I jumped and exclaimed fantastic! And strange. Little did I knew.

What I found mesmerizing are the many scenes that look like they were filmed in real time and show those meaningless moments of life in such a marvelous way. Loved the urban chaos and the serenity of indoor takes. And I could go on and on but lets get into business.

This film is co written and directed by famous Taiwanese Hsiao-hsien Hou, stars half Japanese and half Taiwanese Yo Hitoto –in her screen debut- and Japanese Tadanobu Asano. The film is shot in Tokyo and is a very Japanese story … and film. So we have a Taiwanese director/writer that does not speak Japanese nor lives in Japan, filming in Japanese and with a Japanese story?? Strange, isn’t?

Well, this film was commissioned by a Japanese studio to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the great Japanese director Yosujiro Ozu! With one specific instruction, it had to be a true Japanese movie. According to the studio Hsiao-hsien Hou did a masterpiece that represents Japan today and the future.

With this knowledge the story started to appear in my mind. This is about a young woman, Yoko (played by Yo Hitoto) that after spending a few years in Taiwan teaching Japanese comes back to Tokyo pregnant and finds again her friend Hajime Takeuchi (played by Asano) that loves her, her father and wife that do not know how to communicate with her and continues her life. She is an independent and strong woman that does not want to marry the Taiwanese father of her child because he is too close to his mother. She wants to raise her child alone.

According to most marvelous French produced documentary I have seen recently, Ozu’s films were very popular in his time as they reflected Japanese society extremely well and is today when they are considered art cinema. The above story is a story that Ozu could never tell as it was impossible in the Japanese culture of the ‘50’s/’60s or earlier. The industrialization and economic growth has been changing Japanese society and today there are two extremely different generations living together. The role that probably has changed more is women role in society.

According to me, Hou did the same as Ozu but with today standards and he did it brilliantly!

Just yesterday I was hoping to learn more about Naruse, Ozu and Mizoguchi. My biggest surprise is to watch in that fabulous documentary many clips from Ozu films!! Today there are two Ozu’s movies I HAVE TO see Higanbana (Equinox Flower) 1958 and Sanma No Aji (An Autumn Afternoon or Le Goût du Sake) 1962.

I have to admit that after watching the dvd’s extras everything came into place and I understood why I just was hypnotized by this movie.

Last but not least, Yo Hitoto won her fist award as Newcomer of the Year in the 2005 Awards of the Japanese Academy and Hsiao-hsien Hou won the Golden Tulip at the 2005 Istambul International Film Festival and was nominated for the Golden Lion in the 2004 Venice Film Festival.

Do not miss this movie if the dvd is near you and please watch the documentary called Métro Lumière as well as the interviews with the two main actors and the director.

This is absolutely an art house cinema not for all audiences.

P.S. In the documentary Hsiao-hsien Hou mentions how difficult is to make a film about a culture that is so different to his and succeed, this make me think about My Blueberry Nights that is getting so-so reviews.

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