What happens when we view Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Café Lumière through such a lens? It seems fitting to do so, for Café Lumière, in terms of capturing on film various flows of culture, is a transnational film: a Taiwan director "pays homage to one of the masters, Yaujiro Ozu, commemorating the centenary of Ozu's birth" (as stated on the DVD cover) by making a film in Japan with characters who are connected in interesting ways to Taiwan, Thailand, and China. During the course of the film, the main character Yoko, a young Japanese writer, researches the work of a Taiwanese composer named Jiang Wen-Ye who recorded music in Japan in the 1930s.
The slow pacing of the film, a celebration of the mundane at times, suggests that the film, in a Daoist sense is an attempt to describe The Way, or it is trying to find or depict "IT" as the Beat Poets might say -- or, perhaps this is too much of a stretch, but this quotation that David Bordwell cites in his blog post here seems to describe the style of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's film, especially when: "A moment comes when everything is exactly right, and you have an occurrence—it may be something exquisite or something unnameably gross; there is in it an ecstasy which sets it apart from everything else." -- Gilbert Seldes, The Seven Lively Arts, 1924. Hou succeeds in capturing these moments "when everything is exactly right," moments when, as Roland Barthes wrote, there is a "presence" as both the signifier -- created by a previous system of knowledge -- and the signified overlap.
This overlapping of cultural signifiers occurs in multiple ways, but the one I am thinking about today are those moments in which there may be little difference between the two spaces in the film: the Japan of the film's imagery, and the potential that careful descriptions of these locations could at the same time serve as appropriate descriptions of a place or places that the film does not represent: Taiwan. Is Café Lumière a film -- like Wong Kar-Wai's Happy Together (1997) which is set in Argentina yet might be taking place in Hong Kong -- a film which is set in Japan yet seems to be set in Taiwan? And if so, in what way/s could this dual set of meanings lead one to reflect on Taiwan's heritage of Japanese colonialism?
Café Lumière's final scene -- set in Japan, or is it Taiwan?