The original ideas behind the "Lumiere" project was for three directors to make a triptych anthology film as a celebration of the centenary of Yasujiro Ozu's birth. When it came time for work to begin, Hou was the only man standing, so he chose to make a straight-forward film. Instead of embracing Ozu's study of domesticity, previously celebrated in these pages, Hou embraced Ozu's quiet, somber style, making a movie that focuses on a young woman and her quiet, somber life.
It doesn't really work. Without anything to really say, or anything to really do, Cafe Lumiere is a film that is, for the most part, only interesting for it's showcase of version of modern Japanese life that is rarely depicted in film: one that isn't all about sake, karoke bars and electronics. The deadbeat slackers in this film aren't that different from the deadbeat slackers in American films--their pants don't really fit, they wear stupid hats and need a shave, and in the case of our lead actress, take naps when they should probably be looking for a job. If it wasn't for Tadanobu Asano, the film isn't one that most viewers will want to finish watching, and although they may hold out hopes that Asano will show off some of the brilliance that makes him such an enthralling actor, this film is his version of Johnny Depp's performance in Nick of Time: a dumb movie made even dumber by the presence of a superb actor. While Cafe Lumiere has it's moments of beauty, the film is so numbing and dull that by the waning minutes, one keeps pressing the "time/text" button on the remote, wondering how far away their next sandwich is.