Confectionery vendor Sentaro leads a reticent existence until he meets Tokue, an old woman, who has a recipe to transform his business. Trade starts to flourish overnight until prejudices regarding Tokue’s secret past emerge. Former winner of the 2007 Cannes Grand Prix award, director Naomi Kawase’s latest offering is much more than just a homage to Shintoism. Known as “An” in its native Japan, Sweet Bean is a film that looks at the country’s stigmatisation of leprosy and is a heart-warming tale about friendship and the struggle that societal outcasts can face.
Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) runs a Dorayaki bakery; however, he has no passion for what he bakes. Much to Tokue’s (Kirin Kiki) dismay, he purchases ready-made ingredients. The pancake seller is impressed by Tokue’s bean paste filling and subsequently gives her a job, resulting in an influx of customers and his new employee seeking to enlighten him about “finding a way to make it matter”. Soon after staring work, rumours start to materialise about Tokue’s leprosy and the fact that she lives in a Sanatorium. Sentaro also has his own secret which ties him to the business.
Naomi Kawase weaves together several themes against a luscious Tokyo backdrop. The importance of nature, and our connection to it, is prevalent throughout the story and the director uses sweet images of cherry blossoms and visuals bathed in sunlight.
This is a beautifully crafted drama that is handled in a touching way. A story that skilfully focuses on stigmas – “We want to live in society where the sun shines” – and the usefulness of appreciating nature and our surroundings. What could have been a melancholic viewing experience turns out to be one that is filled with positivity and hope. Things are further enriched by the supporting cast, among them Kirin Kiki’s real-life granddaughter playing the part of a regular customer who befriends Tokue. What the audience is left with is a moving account of why we need compassion in society and the virtues of opening ourselves up to others.
Sweet Bean is released in selected cinemas on 5th August 2016.
Watch the trailer for Sweet Bean here: