VIFF Day One: Antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg’s first feature is a slick, darkly comic scifi/horror film that should not be seen by anyone with a fear of needles.  At some point, humanity’s obsession with celebrity has metastasized to the point that the world’s biochemists, seeing a market opportunity (as they always do) have begun selling people the real thing: viruses drawn from celebrity bodies so you can be infected with the same thing as the pretty girl in the tabloids; steaks grown from celebrity cell scrapings so you can make your dinner a literal communion.

One of the virus salesmen, played by Caleb Landry Jones, has a sideline in the black market, infecting himself with the celebrity bugs and selling them to disreputable folks.  But when he infects himself with a new virus that appears designed to kill its celebrity, the film becomes a modern version of the film noir classic DOA, will our hero figure out who poisoned him in-time?

Cronenberg films in static takes, in frames almost completely white but for some black highlights and the occasional splatter of blood (an effect of the virus).  Jones fits this scheme perfectly: gaunt, pale and freckled, with red-hair and glassy eyes, his body mirrors not only the effects of the virus but the world around him in the remarkably physical performance this remarkably physical film demands.

Unfortunately, the premise of the film totally misinterprets the nature of celebrity obsession.  While many celebrities are beautiful, it’s not their bodies that attract such attention: there’s something more ephemeral about fame, more transcendental.  The act of celebrity worship, like all worship, is less about the body than about the spirit, about moving beyond our own bodies into a higher, non-physical realm.  The film asserts instead that it’s the desire to touch physical perfection that drives the celebrity machine.  Such a materialistic view of fame misses its most important aspect, and thus the film doesn’t really work as satire because a world like this could never actually exist; satire requires grounding in a recognizable reality.  But if you ignore that and accept the crazy logic of its world, Cronenberg’s created a very twisted place that’s a lot of fun to get grossed-out by.

VIFF Day One: When Night Falls

Ying Liang’s When Night Falls begins as a documentary with a mother narrating what happened to her as she was detained after her son was accused of killing six police officers in Shanghai.  She was held in a mental hospital under a false name for months, and only released days before her son’s execution.  When she told a judge she had evidence to present, he told her to write it down and mail it in.  At this point, the film, which had been a series of stills of press coverage of the murders as well as of the hospital the mother, Wang Jingmei, was held, becomes a fictionalized version of real events (I guess you’d call it a docudrama?).

Nai An, a TV actress and independent film producer plays Weng, a quiet, determined woman who keeps working to free her son despite the entire universe apparently conspiring against her (she gets locked out of her apartment, her shoe breaks, even the local photocopier stops working when she needs to use it).  A group of activists and lawyers comes to her defense, but they’re as powerless in the face of the railroading bureaucracy as she is.  Famous artist Ai Weiwei blogs about her son’s case, she’s assured that many “netizens” support her, but it does no good.  Still, she goes on, trying to get the local tailor to replace the zippers on her son’s clothes with buttons so he can wear them in prison (like the government, the old tailor acknowledges her but doesn’t hear or understand what she’s saying).  The film’s slow pace and specificity of location (she repeats the name of her son’s prison like a mantra) drives home the horrible reality of the dramatized events: this place is real, this is happening, this happens.

The film is politically important to be sure, and its creation has gotten Ying banned from his homeland (it was made with funding from the Korean Jeonju Film Festival).  But what’s most compelling about it is this mother’s story, her struggle in the face of the PRC’s Kafkaesque justice system and the heartbreaking tragedy of her loss.  I saw Ying’s Good Cats at VIFF back in 2008 (I enjoyed its slow weirdness, a gangster story with a metal band Greek chorus), but this is a great film.

Ying Liang (with mike) Q & A with Shelly Kraicer and translator

VIFF Day One: Thursday Till Sunday

A lovely little film from Chilean director Dominga Sotomayor, the first of what looks to be a strong contingent of films from Chile at this year’s festival (I’m looking forward to Raul Ruiz’s Night Across the Street and Pablo Larrain’s No as well).  The film presents a child’s eye view of a family roadtrip, dominated by Santi Ahumada as the preteen Lucia, a charming girl who plays games and sings with her little brother in the backseat, only occasionally wears shoes and catches bits and pieces of what appears to be her parents on the verge of breaking up.  Much of the film takes place in the car, a beat up old station wagon, and Sotomayor not only ingeniously finds new ways of looking at a familiar space, she manages to create some remarkably beautiful images.  One in particular, a profile shot from the passenger side of the father driving  in silhouette with the sun setting behind him manages to keep both driver and passengers in focus as the mother climbs from the front seat to the back and Lucia moves from back to front.  Sotomayor as well delicately balances conveying the parental drama just obliquely enough that our experience of it mirrors that of the young protagonist, in this sense, the film is quite reminiscent of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s A Summer at Grandpa’s.  Instead of really understanding exactly what’s happening with the parents (the father is taking them all on a trip to a piece of land he’s inherited, but it may be a prelude to his moving out; the mother appears to be having an affair with a single father they (coincidentally?) meet along the way; some people have sex in a tent, followed by pigs invading their campsite (not exactly subtle); and so on) we feel Lucia’s sense of uneasiness and confusion.  She knows more than her parents think, but not enough to make narrative sense of it all: she just feels the wrongness.  Despite all that, the trip continues and after a harrowing night where the mother runs off after a fight with her husband and Lucia appears to lose her whole family in the desert wandering alone on the rocky alien landscape, the family is reunited and soon reaches their new land.  But will it last, or is the last time they’ll be together?

Unfortunately, I had to skip the Q & A with Sotomayor and Ahumada after the show (next movie was starting too soon), I would have loved to have heard them talk about their movie.  Great start to VIFF 2012.

VIFF Day One: Intro

After a year away, I’m back at the Vancouver International Film Festival.  This is my fourth time here and you can find links to short reviews of my previous trips in the sidebar.  I’ll be here until next Sunday, writing about all the 20-30 movies I see.  And I’ll also be tweeting about them, though wifi is spotty so the tweets may all show up at once late at night like they did yesterday.  You can follow me on Twitter @TheEndofCinema, or you can just click this link.

VIFF is pretty much all you could want from a film festival if you’re more interested in movies than hype.  It doesn’t have the Hollywood star power of Toronto, the self-righteousness of Sundance, or the Frenchness of Cannes.  It does have the greatest collection both in quantity and quality of Asian films you’ll find in North America, programmed by the excellent Tony Rayns and Shelly Kraicer, who ably lead a number of Q & As with stars and directors as well (I’ve rarely been more giddy than when I got to see Jia Zhangke in person two years ago).  It also conveniently locates all its venues within a few blocks of each other which makes it extremely pedestrian-friendly, unlike Seattle which sprawls all over the city (and all over a month too: apparently they’ll play anything.  Hey SIFF: play fewer, better movies!  No one cares if you’re the biggest).

Before diving into this year’s films, here’s a list of the top 20 movies I saw at VIFF in my first three trips:

1. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami)
2. Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley)
3. Oxhide II (Liu Jiayin)
4. Oki’s Movie (Hong Sangsoo)
5. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
6. Sparrow (Johnnie To)
7. Like You Know it All (Hong Sangsoo)
8. Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
9. Written By (Wai Ka-fai)
10. Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl (Manoel de Oliveira)
11. 607 (Liu Jiayin)
12. Happy Go Lucky (Mike Leigh)
13. Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat)
14. I Wish I Knew (Jia Zhangke)
15. Thomas Mao (Zhu Wen)
16. Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
17. Waltz with Bashir (Ari Folman)
18. Rembrandt’s J’accuse (Peter Greenaway)
19. The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel)
20. In Search of Beethoven (Phil Grabsky)

On Swordsman and Swordsman 2

Swordsman 2 is a film I’ve known for years, having first encountered it during the Jet Li boom of the late 90s (my theatre used to run HK double features all the time, this is where I first saw it, paired I think with Dr. Wai and the Scripture with No Words), but I’d never before seen the first film.  Not surprisingly, the sequel makes a lot more sense after seeing the first half of the story (well, first third, these are part of a trilogy with The East is Red, which I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen).

It’s based on a novel by Louis Cha, the popular wuxia novelist who also wrote the novel that the Stephen Chow Royal Tramp films are based on (The Deer and the Cauldron, I’ve read the first volume of it and it’s a lot of fun).  The films also reference some of the geopolitical turmoil of the late Ming Dynasty,  the context of which I’ve only now started to pick up on after read having read Charles Mann’s 1493 a couple weeks ago.  The films more or less chronicle the conflict between two ethnic groups: the Han or, as the bad subtitles call them, “Mainlanders” and the “Highlanders” over a stolen book, the “Sacred Volume” which promises super special powers to whoever masters its secrets.  As mann documents, in order to consolidate their power over the coastal areas of China that were freely engaging in trade (smuggling) with European powers (and not paying their taxes), the Ming basically deported the residents of the Chinese coasts to the interior of the country.  These people, who were ethnically, culturally and linguistically different from the Ming (who were Han, the dominant ethnic group in China for thousands of years), had to build their new communities in the hills and mountains as the fertile river valleys were already populated by Han (hence “Highlanders”).  Naturally enough, there was plenty of conflict between the newly transplanted and the already there.  (Both films work great as spectacle, but as always, knowing stuff makes things better.)  Getting mixed up in this conflict is a third group, an order of swordsmen/monks, the top student of which, Ling Wu Chung, is the protagonist of both films (played by Sam Hui in the first film and Jet Li in the second).

The first film follows the theft of the stolen book from the Ming library, and the efforts of evil Ming eunuch and his evil henchman (Jacky Cheung) to get it back while Sam Hui and his disciple “Kiddo” (the daughter of their leader, who is trying to be a swordsman herself, played by Cecilia Yip in the first film and Michelle Reis in the second) befriend members of the Sun Moon Sect, a group of highland revolutionaries resisting the Ming who are themselves after the book (they bond with two elder members of the sect as they sing the song “Hero of Heroes” that dominates the soundtrack of both films and summarizes their philosophical message, it’s one of the loveliest scenes in either films: two old warriors singing about the meaninglessness of their violent, power struggling lives).  Eventually, everyone in a position of power is corrupted by their desire for the book, and in a nice Buddhist message, only those that don’t want power (Ling, Kiddo and a couple ladies from the Sun Moon Sect: Blue Phoenix and her boss Ying) are revealed to be worthy of wielding it.  The film is credited to King Hu, a legendary martial arts director (his late 60s-early 70s films Dragon Inn, A Touch of Zen and Come Drink with Me are all masterpieces) but he reportedly quit halfway through.  The film was taken over by producer Tsui Hark and action director Ching Siu-tung (who directed the sequel) and the finished work retains very little of Hu’s visual style, instead featuring Tsui’s brand of hyperkinetic moving camera and rapid editing that looks more like Michael Bay than Hu’s more restrained yet still muscular style that helped define classical Hong Kong filmmaking.  There are a few moments that seem exceptionally well-composed for a Ching or Tsui film, and the fact that Kiddo is a pretty strong and complex female character in the first film and a fawning, just wants to be a pretty girl bit of throw away comic relief in the second points to some Hu influence, as he’s notable for always featuring strong heroines.

The second film picks up a year later, the Sacred Volume now having fallen into the hands of Invincible Dawn, the younger brother of the leader of the Sun Moon Sect who has tapped into its powers and is fomenting a civil war between the Highlanders and the Ming (with the help of some refugees from Japan’s own recently-concluded civil war).  Dawn has also imprisoned his brother and taken control of the sect, murdering any sect members who dare oppose him, which leads to an attack on Ling’s pals Ying and Blue Phoenix.  The swordsmen, who after the events of the first film have decided to renounce worldly affairs and go live on a mountain are again ensnared in the ethnic conflict, this time literalized as a fratricidal war between Dawn and his brother, Zen (who is also Ying’s father).  The film is most famous for the character of Invincible Dawn, played by Brigitte Lin: it seems that in order to utilize the full power of the Sacred Volume, Dawn had to castrate himself.  The ultimate power turns him into a woman.  It’s a fascinating conceit and I really wonder what King Hu would have done with it had he been able to make the whole trilogy (or what Louis Cha does with it in the novel, if this is even in the novel).  As it is, though, despite the greatness of Lin, I’m left really dissatisfied.  There’s two ways you can go with this conceit: 1) ultimate power = woman because women are awesome so Jet Li’s gonna have his hands full defeating her, bet we get some badass fight scenes; or 2) ultimate power = woman but women are weak because they get all mushy and emotional and such and Jet Li’s oh so handsome so how can a poor girl resist him?  Knowing King Hu’s other films, I think he would have gone with option #1.  Unfortunately, Tsui and Ching went with #2 and the movie really suffers because of it.

Still, a little comic misogyny isn’t the end of the world, and the movie does star Jet Li, indisputably one of the two greatest kung fu stars of the last 30 years or so.  Given enough great action scenes I’m willing to forgive a lot.  Unfortunately, there’s hardly anything in the way of martial arts on display here.  This is the fantasy wuxia genre, where characters fly around and shoot energy out of their swords and hands and have all kinds of crazy magical powers and there’s nary a stunt that doesn’t involve wires or special effects.  There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself, I like Tsui Hark’s brand of lunacy just fine, but it seems like a waste to have Li in your movie and not let him do what he does best.  It’d be like casting Gene Kelly in your musical but only allowing him to sing and not dance.  The best bit of martial arts in either film comes from the first one, when Sam Hui demonstrates his skills by lifting and juggling the flames of three candles around a room on the edge of his sword, and given how much I love Jet Li, that’s just a travesty.

Still, the movie is a lot of fun, and the last hour or so (from the introduction of Zen, who proves to be even more terrifying than his brother/sister) has as much crazy momentum as anything I’ve ever seen, much more so than the first film, and there’s some very real pathos to be found in the fates of Dawn’s girlfriend (though this is undercut by her first scene, where she appears to be a doped out crazy chick) and the heroic Blue Phoenix, and in Ling’s realization that he hasn’t done anything but drink and get laid for the whole movie and that lots of people have died as a result (how wild is it that the ostensible hero of the film, Jet Li, essentially does nothing for almost the whole running time?).  As much as he needs to withdraw from the world, the world needs heroes.

I do recommend both films, but obviously Tsui Hark isn’t for everyone.  He’s weird and silly and when he does bother with exposition it tends to fly by faster than a non-Chinese speaker like me can catch it.  What he is not is incompetent.  I’ve seen and enjoyed Swordsman 2 four or five times in the last 15 years though I’m only know starting to pick up on some of its wider historical issues.

So I’m torn.  I think Swordsman is probably the “better” film: a little more carefully composed, a little more complex in characterization.  But Swordsman 2 is the more audacious and I suspect it will ultimately prove to be the more memorable and while I’m unhappy with its approach to the two main female characters, it nonetheless gives Brigitte Lin one of her greatest roles and I love what it does with Jet Li’s character (though I’m very much dismayed that he never gets to show off is considerable athletic abilities).  Fortunately, there’s no need to choose.  See them both.

All Those Images

“Now all that is no more. Now those mountains and deserts are just things, information stocked in my memory. Now that I’m traveling this road through the past, I’m sorry I was that man, that narrow-minded Legionnaire. What did I see of wild camels, of shepherds appearing from nowhere, women in bright colors in fields of stone, all those images?”

               —Galoup, Beau Travail

On Children of Paradise

This week the good people at The Criterion Collection are releasing a new Blu-Ray edition of one of my favorite movies, Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise, so this seems like a reasonable time to rerun something I wrote a year and a half ago over at the Metro Classics website, back when Metro Classics existed.  Back when the Metro existed.
I first learned of Children of Paradise when, back in 1998 (pre-internet and stranded in Spokane, my home town) I read in the newspaper(!) a response to the AFI’s recently published Top 100 American Films of All-Time list.  The writer, whose name I don’t recall, but I believe he wrote for a paper in Arizona, made a list of the top 100 foreign language films to counter the blinders imposed by the AFI’s mission (they are the American Film Institute, after all.  Which I guess they interpret as being the Institute for American Film, as opposed to the American Institute for Film).  Children of Paradise was #2, as I recall, behind only Jean Renoir’s The Rules of the Game (which was coincidentally our last Metro Classic, last December).
Living in Spokane, the film was unsurprisingly unavailable at my local video stores, whose foreign film selections tended to consist entirely of the major works of Kurosawa, Fellini, Bergman, Gerard Depardieu and the dubbed Jackie Chan.  But, knowing I would soon be moving to Seattle, I clipped the list out of the paper as a guide to future viewing.
When I did move here, the first thing I did after unpacking my mom’s minivan was walk the two blocks to Cinema Books.  After pouring over the packed shelves for an hour or so, I left and walked a further block to Scarecrow Video.  I spent a couple of hours wandering the stacks wide-eyed and open-mouthed.  I was like Lawrence catching his first glimpse of the Suez Canal after wandering the Sinai for days.  I didn’t buy anything at Cinema Books, or rent anything at Scarecrow that first day: I was too intimidated.  But I woke up early the next day (and by “early” I mean around noon) and tried again. My initial stack of videos from Scarecrow was about twice as many as one was allowed to rent, so I had to put several back on the shelves.  But one of the ones I kept was Children of Paradise.  I watched it that afternoon (loved it!) and the next day I went to Cinema Books at bought the BFI monograph on the film by Jill Forbes (one of the first of many previously unavailable cinema books now lining my bookshelves).
But I hadn’t watched the film again since then.  A few years ago I bought the Criterion DVD, but it had been gathering dust until last week.  I was afraid that my love of the movie was more about the context in which I watched it, both the novelty of the big city and as one of my first steps into serious cinephilia.  I’d toyed with the idea of trying to get my wife to see it, but the prospect of a three and a half hour black and white French film about mimes in the 19th Century is kind of a tough sell.  For the same reason, I’ve been reluctant to try and play it as a Metro Classic. Well, I’m happy to report that the film is just as great as I remember it.  And while it may not be the second greatest foreign film of all-time, it’s still pretty awesome and is certainly the best film I’ve seen from 1945.
As novelistic as any film ever made (the common comparison has been to call it the French response to Gone with the Wind) it chronicles the complex love pentagon around the beautiful Garance (played by Arletty, who was shortly to be imprisoned for having an affair with a German officer during the war).  She’s loved by the roguish, womanizing aspiring actor Frédérick Lemaître, the villainous thief Lacenaire, the shy and sensitive mime Baptiste and a rich aristocrat.  The first hour and 15 minutes of the film is breathtaking in the scope of its storytelling despite taking place entirely in the course of a single day.  Carné and his accomplished screenwriter, Jacques Prévert, introduce every major character, theme and relationship in the film while creating a fully detailed and realized world for those relationships to intersect within.
The film is structured almost entirely as a series of one-on-one conversations, intercut with performance footage of the actors at work (most memorably Baptiste’s pantomimes and Frédérick’s improvised, and crowd-pleasing mutilation of the terrible play he’s starring in).  Every major character gets a scene with every other character, so in addition to the dramatics of the love triangle, and the fascinating of the details of 19th century theatre, we get to see a whole range of human interaction.  Whereas Gone with the Wind, to the benefit of the kind of story it’s telling, I think, remains resolutely focused on its heroine’s point of view, with every scene and most every conversation being about her, Garance at times fades into the background of Children of Paradise, allowing the men to become as fully realized as she is, if not more so.  The difference is that between creating a great character and a great world.
After the first third, the film is not quite as remarkable.  The relations and complications introduced in that first day play out, first a few weeks later, with Garance and Frédérick living together and performing in Baptiste’s pantomime and then years later when Garance returns to Paris after running away with the aristocrat.  In the end, everyone meets and talks with everyone else, some people die and everyone is unhappy except the audience, the true residents of Paradise.  (Literally, that’s what they called the theatre balcony).

The Laurel & Hardy Project #13: The Second Hundred Years

For only the second time in this series, the first since the fourth film (made a mere seven months earlier), Duck Soup, Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy play co-protagonists.  Usually Hardy either had a bit part or played the villain, but here they are on the same side.  Despite the co-star billing though, Hardy is really still merely support for Laurel.  They play prisoners in James Finlayson’s jail and the first reel follows a few of their escape attempts and subsequent punishments.  Laurel goes all-out with his ‘weepy face’ in these scenes, in fact the film opens with a close-up of it, but rather than merely repeating himself, Laurel does continue to build on the face as he’s done in some of the earlier shorts.  The longest sequence of the first reel, a jailor putting the prisoners through a series of calisthenics, finds Laurel beautifully out-of-sync with the others’ movements, an agent of chaos getting repeatedly smacked in the face which leads to his signature over-reaction.  After thus setting up the face (as he has in every other scene of the film so far), he begins to occasionally break in and out of it with deadpan asides to the camera, slight eye rolls that indicate, as in With Love and Hisses, the phoniness behind the act: he’s a man acting like a child, not a man-child.

Hardy though, still doesn’t have much of a persona.  There are hints of exasperation with Laurel, but while Laurel gets the big set piece in the calisthenics scene, Hardy pretty much is resigned to the straightish man role.  Looking at the structure of the film reveals its true single-star nature.  The first half of the first reel sets up their situation (prisoners) and their first escape attempt (they dig a tunnel but end up in the warden’s office) and the second half is the calisthenics and their second, successful escape attempt (they disguise themselves as painters and walk out the front gate).  The first half of the second reel is a slow motion chase sequence, a wonderfully surreal vision of the two of them wandering the streets painting random objects white while under the suspicious eye of a passing cop (they apparently think that painting the hand rails, windows and cars they come across makes them look less suspicious – this is by far the best thing about the film, it’s the weirdness of conceits like this that keep drawing me back to these ancient comedies) and ending with the two displacing the very French dignitaries James Finlayson is hosting at his mansion within the prison (introduced like Chekov’s gun in the beginning of the first reel).

With a true pair of equals, the subsequent dinner scene in the mansion, which forms most of the second half of the second reel, would provide an opportunity for Hardy to take center stage, creating a nice formal balance: each reel would start with team action and end with the focus on one of the team members.  But instead, it’s another showpiece for Laurel, who engages in a bit of low-key slapstick attempting to eat a grape with a fork (he keeps trying to scoop it up and it rolls away, around the plate, across the table, down a old lady’s dress, you know how it goes).  It’s funny enough, but it reduces Hardy to bystander, rather than partner.  And then film then ends all too abruptly.  Finlayson takes them to their old cell block on a tour, they are recognized and give up. No chase, no comedy, just a shrug and it’s over.  Hardy never has a chance to do anything interesting.  But I suspect he will before too long.

Houzu: On Café Lumière

Before leaving my month of Hou Hsiao-hsien behind, I wanted to post a few shots I noted while rewatching his 2003 film Café Lumière for the They Shot Pictures podcast (and that the host of said podcast was so helpful in capturing for me since I foolishly returned the DVD before grabbing them).  The film was supposed to be one part of an anthology made to honor the 100th anniversary of Yasujiro Ozu’s birth, but (according to the imdb) the other directors involved dropped out and so Hou expanded his part into a feature.  It’s set in Tokyo and tells the story of a young woman (Yôko) whose parents want her to get married, a common enough Ozu situation.  The twist is that Yôko is pregnant and has absolutely no interest in marrying the father (“because he’s too close to his mother” she gives as a particularly biting explanation to her own mother). The film very obliquely follows this crisis, barely articulating the girl’s break from and then reconciliation with her parents.  While Ozu’s films are full of people talking, often they end up saying more in the small spaces in-between their chatter.  Hou builds his film around those empty spaces, cutting the dialogue down to the barest essentials of small talk (the father in Café Lumière barely says a word (if he speaks at all) and the film’s plot, such as it is, is related in about three or four lines of dialogue) and leaves us instead with the distilled essence of Ozu, with everything he leaves unsaid.  This approach is I think what J. Hoberman was getting at when he called it “an Ozu film in reverse—it’s mainly ambience ‘pillow shots,’ with bits of narrative serving as punctuation.”

Café Lumière also presented a stylistic challenge for Hou, in that he clearly wanted to pay homage to Ozu, but he also wanted to do more than simply copy another filmmaker’s style.  There is no one in film history, at least not that I’ve encountered in mainstream narrative cinema, that has as idiosyncratic and identifiable style as Ozu, and as such, aping it would be pretty easy provided you’ve worked out all the rules (reading David Bordwell’s book, heavily referenced in our They Shot Pictures Ozu episode, should help).  Instead of merely imitating, however, Hou melds some of the hallmarks of Ozu’s style with his own, far less rigid aesthetic.  The result is neither an “Ozu” film or a typical Hou film: it’s a Houzu film.
This melding can be seen right from the opening shot of Café Lumière, which shows Yôko in her apartment:
Compare this with a shot from the middle of Ozu’s final film, 1962’s An Autumn Afternoon, where we see the Chishu Ryu character’s daughter-in-law Akiko in her apartment:
The rectangular compositions are extremely similar.  Both feature women looking out over balconies, backs to the camera with walls and windows delineating boxes and frames within the frame and with colorful bits of fabric breaking up the space.  With Ozu, the colors are more vibrant, as is the music.  Both are muted with Hou, befitting the muted nature of the film in general (if I remember correctly, there’s no music in this scene, but the score in the rest of the film is a stark contrast to Ozu’s usual aimlessly jaunty melodies).  This kind of composition is not unusual for Hou, such frontal squareness can be seen all the way back in The Boys from Fengkuei, his first “serious” film (there are some extreme instances of rectilinearly subdividing the frame to create ever smaller windows on the action in Summer at Grandpa’s which we discussed on the Hou podcast), but by the 2000s Hou had adopted a much more fluid and flowing style.  The frames in Good Men, Good Women, Goodbye South Goodbye and Millennium Mambo (the three films he made prior to Café Lumière) are much more cluttered and chaotic, a tangle of deep focus arcs and curves and lumps and shadows.  As the scene continues, Hou’s camera moves, a striking contrast to Ozu’s style, which, by the time of An Autumn Afternoon was almost completely immobile (a small amount of camera movement was a part of Ozu’s films consistently until his last five years or so, but the characterization of Ozu’s style as static lingers nonetheless, partially a by-product of his editing style).  It doesn’t move much, as I recall Yôko answers the phone and the camera wanders about more or less aimlessly, maintaining the same middle distance from the action, but it’s enough to mark a break with the initial Ozuosity of the composition.
Probably the most explicitly Ozuvian shots in the film come a bit later, as Yôko returns to her parents’ house for a visit.  We begin with a long immobile look through the house, and again the frame is divided by rectangles, this time not only as walls tunneling our sightline toward the in-deep-focus person in the distance, but also by open doors indicating that we are looking at three separate rooms, three planes of (potential) action: the kitchen in the far distance, the dining room in the middle and a living room closest to us and the camera.  Our eye is naturally drawn to the extreme distance where we see movement (the mom is cooking), so we barely register that there is another kind of door revealing a fourth spatial plane.

That is, until a car drives up (Yôko and her father have arrived), the movement again drawing our eye to the car’s reflection in the glass of the open front door.  What once was three visual planes is now four.  This kind of tiny arithmetical game is exactly the kind of trick Ozu, the most numerological of filmmakers, would have played.  It also often provides the most whimsical element of a Hou film: the shocking reveal of detail that was there all along.  Hou does this not only in compositions (my favorite is in Goodbye, South Goodbye, where what I assume is a pile of dirty clothes clumped on the floor turns out to be a sleeping Annie Shizuka Inoh) but also in the construction of his narratives (as in The Puppetmaster, where we see a long passage chronicling the romance between Li Tienlu and a local prostitute, only to learn later that Li had had a wife and kids in another town the whole time).

Aside from the pleasurable, playful shock of recognition we get from seeing something that was already visible, the shot gives us a sense of the kind of 360 degree space that was an Ozu trademark and that Hou generally avoids: we are shown that not only is there depth into the screen before us, but also backwards, behind us.  Later in the film, we get a reverse shot of the same setup, completing the three-dimensionality of the space, this time with each plane occupied by a different person or object (mother, father, cat, car).  Reverse shots like this are an essential part of Ozu’s visual style but extremely uncommon in the Hou films of this period, in which the camera tends to drift laterally in relation to the action it’s depicting, usually with pans and tilts but occasionally tracking into the on-screen space.  Hou gives his space dimensionality through camera movement, whereas Ozu did it almost exclusively through framing and editing.