An (Sweet Red Bean Paste)
Sentaro (Nagase Masatoshi) makes his living in a minuscule bakery, making dorayaki – traditional Japanese pancakes with a sweet red bean paste filling called “an”. When Tokue (Kiki Kirin), a woman in her mid-70s, convinces Sentaro to let her work for him making “an” according to her own recipe, business booms almost overnight.
The leaves change, and Sentaro and Tokue establish their friendship with one another as well as with a young girl, Wakana (Uchida Kyara), one of the bakery’s regular customers. When rumours start to spread about Tokue’s past, customers begin to dwindle once again, marking the untimely end of the working partnership, but ultimately proving the strength of the bonds that have been forged. Tokue’s story is gradually revealed, as is Sentaro’s, making the old lady’s eventual death all the more poignant and her loss keenly felt by her friends.
Though it may sound like rather a melancholy way to end a story that started with sweet bean paste, Sentaro eventually finds the resolve to leave his job at the bakery and, inspired by the lessons he has learned from Tokue, sets up his own dorayaki stall under a bright white canopy of blossoming cherry trees.
Japanese director Naomi Kawase’s limited use of music throughout the film results in a kind of visual poetry; though the story itself is profoundly touching and masterfully told, it is not sentimentalised. Silences are savoured, and the quiet sounds of life – rustling leaves, the lethargic shuffle of footsteps, the quiet bubble of boiling beans – are all as carefully considered and arranged as David Hadjadj’s wistful soundtrack.
This tone of intimacy is a reflection of Kawase’s choice to focus a large portion of the scenes within the walls and the immediate surroundings of the bakery, and restrict the use of overly grand or sweeping shots to a few quiet studies of the sky and forest. The leisurely pace of the film is also refreshing. While everyday life demands increasing speed, efficiency, and instant gratification in all areas, An honours the philosophy that anything done properly must be granted enough time, particularly the preparation of “an”.
An (Sweet Red Bean Paste) does not yet have a UK release date.
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