Made by the Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien as a homage to the great Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, the luminously shot Café Lumière meanders through contemporary Tokyo in the company of a pregnant twentysomething writer Yoko (Japanese pop star Yo Hitoto), and her shy bookselling friend Hajime (Zatôichi's Tadanobu Asano). The plot may be almost non-existent, but who cares when a film is both this serenely beautiful and quietly insightful.
Café Lumière concentrates on the minutiae of everyday life, such as preparing and eating food, drinking coffee in cafés, and travelling around Tokyo by tram and train. Yoko is researching a book on the Taiwanese-born composer Jiang Wenye - whose work appears on the soundtrack - and she is trying to track down the musician's 1930 haunts. Hajime is happy to help in this research, whilst continuing to pursue his pet project of recording the sounds of the city's extensive rail network. (Images of trains are a recurrent motif, suggesting lives running on separate tracks.)
"A VEIN OF UNDERSTATED HUMOUR"
Shooting in long takes, Hou Hsiao-Hsien steers clear of melodramatic confrontations: even when the single Yoko tells her parents of her pregnancy, her father remains his benignly taciturn self. There's also a vein of understated humour: when Yoko asks about the health of a cat at a suburban station, an anonymous employee tells her, "She's getting older, like all of us." There are conscious echoes here of Ozu's classic Tokyo Story, but this is very much Hsiao-Hsien's vision of what it's like to be young and adrift in a contemporary metropolis.
In Japanese with English subtitles.