Life is more burden than joy for Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase). He has never had an appetite for sweets; he doesn’t even like the dorayaki he sells in his small-town bakery, pancake-like pastries filled with sweet red bean paste called “an”. When old and amiable lady Tokue Yoshii (Kirin Kiki) asks for work, he refuses at first. Tasting her homemade an, however, convinces him to take her on. Due to her recipe and uplifting spirits, the two soon have more than enough to do. But, their success is fragile. Once the young customer Wakana (Kyara Uchida) discovers Tokue’s secret, it threatens to throw everything out of balance again.
AN focuses on two people who have both been excluded from society due to very different reasons and have to find their way in life. Superb acting by Nagase, Uchida and Kiki assure that this delicate drama doesn’t drift into cloying sentimentality.
Despite touching on Tokue’s disease and the Japanese government’s merciless handling of her likes, the film never raises a warning finger. Based on the bestseller novel by Durian Sukegawa, director Naomi Kawase created a film light like a cherry blossom whirling around. Sometimes, Tokue knows, we are “crushed by the ignorance of the world”. While Sentaro, depressed and lonely, seeks comfort in drinking, the septuagenarian teaches him and the viewer to respect each other and pay attention to our surroundings instead.
Being in accordance with nature is one of the recurring tropes in the narrative. Nature runs through the entire film, reminding the viewer of the fugaciousness of time and life. Tokue tells Sentaro to look closely, to listen to the story of the beans. A long montage of the bean paste preparation does her words justice. When Sentaro watches Tokue working in the bakery, she is framed by trees mirrored in the window. It is the details that matter.
With its slowly unfolding narrative and long stills, the film invites the viewer to slow down and consider the simple things in life. Little action and few words make the plot predictable, but the film never bores. When the credits roll down after almost two hours, the viewer is left with warmth and hope – and is likely to have recovered their appetite.
AN does not have a UK release date yet. This is part of the Love competition in the 59th London Film Festival.
Watch the trailer for AN here: