Sweet Bean


Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

An, directed by Naomi Kawase
"An intimate and immensely moving portrait of three lost people who come together and learn to find some direction in their lives." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Films with a background theme of food have a habit of making a strong emotional connection, from Eat Drink Man Woman to Tampopo - the latest from Japanese director Naomi Kawase is no exception.

Her bitter-sweet recipe may prove to be too deliberate and painstaking for some taste buds but like slow cooking, this simmers along gently and ultimately provides rewards.

The film which opened Un Certain Regard at Cannes, finds Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase), the solitary manager of a small bakery which specialises in a traditional Japanese pastry known as 'dorayaki,’ going through a person crisis.

It starts off in the glorious season of cherry blossom yet Sentaro feels anything but uplifted and has no spring in his step. He has old debt to pay off and goes about his trade with a heavy heart. One day, elderly woman Tokue (Kirin Kiki) turns up at the shop and asks for a job.

Senator feels she is too old to be of any assistance and puts her off. The next day she returns with some homemade bean paste, which is so good he can longer resist her entreaties and they team up with considerable success and queues out of the door.

Based on a novel by Tetsuya Akikawa, Kawase's adaptation provides an intimate and immensely moving portrait of three lost people who come together and learn to find some direction in their lives.

The film may be modest in its trappings but it seeks to embrace universal themes about our place in the cosmos and the struggles of daily life. Ideas are exchanged over the cooking of the beans as the characters reveal their hidden problems.

The old woman had been quarantined from society because of her leprosy and is, even now, treated with suspicion. As her relationship with Sentaro grows to one of mutual respect he comes out of his shell and and has a new optimism about him.

It’s all delicately handled and nuanced and exerts a gentle and yet persuasive power.

Reviewed on: 15 May 2015
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A baker forms a bond with an elderly woman over their love of pastry.
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Director: Naomi Kawase

Writer: Naomi Kawase, based on the book by Durian Sakegawa

Starring: Kirin Kiki, Miki Mizuno, Masatoshi Nagase, Etsuko Ichihara

Year: 2015

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: Japan

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