Café Lumière (2003) – Movie Review

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Café Lumière / Kohi jiko

The year 2003 was the 100th birthday anniversary of the great Japanese film director, Yasujiro Ozu. In commemoration of his 100th birthday, a Taiwanese film director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, who had won much praise in some famous international film festivals, made a film paying homage to Ozu. The film is “Café Lumière” (Kohi jiko).

Train and Tokyo

In this film, train is indispensable. In the interview for the French  documentary about “Café Lumière”, Hou said that without trains, Can you imagine Tokyo? As he said so, you can see a lot of trains passing in the film, for example a train of Toden Arakawara line passing in the very first scene of the film, and trains of three lines (Marunouchi line, Sobu line and Chuo line) passing in the very last scene of the film.

Café Lumière tokyo public transportation

What kind of film is “Café Lumière”? I can say that “Café Lumière” is a love story. When Hou shoots a love story in Tokyo, he must think that train should take on an important role in this love story. To explain it, let me introduce a short summary of the story first. Yoko is a freelance writer. She traces the life of a Taiwanese composer, Ko Bunya, who came to Japan to study electronics but then began his carrier as a composer in Japan. Yoko visits a bookshop where Ko often visited, and meets up with Ko’s wife to interview her about Ko for her reseach. When she comes back to her hometown, she confesses to her mother that she is pregnant, that the father of her baby is her Taiwanese boyfriend, and that she has already decided not to marry him and become a single mother. On the other hand, Hajime is the owner of a book shop where Yoko frequently visits, and he always helps with Yoko’s research on Ko, staying by her side. From the first shot to the last shot, Hajime never confesses about his feeling towards Yoko, and the relationship between them never develops in the film.

Café Lumière movie

Despite this, I can say that “Café Lumière” is definitely a love story. In the last scene, in a train, Yoko falls asleep on the seat with her body slightly shaken by the rattle of the train. Suddenly Hajime gets on the train and finds her, then keeps giving the gentle gaze to Yoko. It is obvious that Hajime has affection towards Yoko in this scene, and the important fact of the scene is that it is in a train that this scene is shot. It seems that Hou puts importance on sharing slight shake by the rattle of a train, like the first scene of “Dust in the Wind” (1986), when he shot a relationship between a man and a woman. In addition to it, as I have already mentioned, Hou said that he cannot shoot Tokyo without a train, so it is natural for Hou to shoot the last scene of “Café Lumière”, which is filled with the atmosphere of affection, on a train.

Cinema and Train

December 28, 1895 the Lumiere brothers held a film projection with an admission fee in Grand Cafe, Paris, and this was the first film projection with admission fee in the world. In other words, this form of film projection with admission fee stipulated the way of enjoying films today. Of those films which Lumiere brothers projected, important is “The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station”. The running time of the film is only 50 seconds, and the content of it is footage of a train arriving to a platform and people who get off the train there. This shows that from the beginning of the history of cinema, a train has continued to be an object of films. The Japanese title of “Café Lumière” is “Kohi jiko”. Lumière means “light” in English, and this is a direct translation of “Ko”. However, it seems that “Lumiere” has another meaning in this international title. As it implies, Hou tried to pay homage not only to Ozu but also to the Lumiere brothers, or the essence of the film history, by shooting trains in “Café Lumière”.


Written by: Gakuto Fujita
Edited by: Monika Dvirnaitė


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Author: Gakuto Fujita

In 2008 he earned a Master's degree in Arts with a focus on Film studies in Tokyo. Then in 2013 he has decided to enter the third university in his life to do Compulsory Education Studies. He is a big fan of Taiwanese movies, and expresses his respect to such movie directors as Hou Hsiao and Edward Yang.

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