SWEET BEAN (Japan | France | Germany/TBC/113mins)
Directed by Naomi Kawase. Starring Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida, Miki Mizuno, Miu Takeuchi.
THE PLOT: Naomi Kawase’s film focuses on a Doraki stand – sweet bean paste (an) sandwiched between two pancakes. Sentaro (Nagase Masatoshi) runs the stand and has always bought the paste in bulk. When an elderly woman shows up at the stand looking for work and offering her recipe for an, the two find they have a lot more in common than they first thought.
THE PLOT: At almost 2 hours long, ‘Sweet Bean’ is not a film that gets to its point quickly, but it is a sweet tale of three people coming together under the most unlikely circumstances, and finding common ground. Nagase Masatoshi plays the man who runs the Doraki stand, and it is clear that this is a man who has removed himself from society intentionally, and is tortured by the events that drove him to do so. Kiki Kirin plays Tokue, the woman who mysteriously offers her recipe for the sweet paste. Kirin makes the character seem like a simpleton at first, but it becomes clear, as time goes on, that she simply looks at the world differently than her surly boss.
Director Naomi Kawase adapted the screenplay from Durian Sukegawa’s novel, and although the message of the film is sweet, and it is a pleasure to spend time with the characters as they get closer, and heir loyalty deepens, there are times when cooking as metaphor for life – in general, slow down and pay attention – takes too much of the film’s time, leaving the pacing to grind to a halt. As well as this, the intention of the film is relatively clear, and having Kirin hammer the point home with a voiceover at the end feels a little like overkill.
Kawase, as director, has created a film about friendship and acceptance, while also examining the phenomenon of leprosy in Japan, and the social stigma that still surrounds the disease. The performances in the film are strong, but the narrow focus on cooking means that the pacing is often toturous. That said, when it all comes together in the final act (before the twee) voiceover, it is clear that ‘Sweet Bean’ is a sweet little film about acceptance and life.
In all, ‘Sweet Bean’ is a film that allows those who are invisible in society – either by choice or not – to be seen by one another, and of course, the audience. The performances are strong, but the pacing is often painful, and the final voiceover of the film is just a step too far in hammering the point home.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Naomi Kawase’s follow-up to Still The Water is Sweet Bean, a gentle, life-affirming tale involving a Japanese delicacy and the three lonely souls who find companionship in the most unlikely of circumstances.

    Dour Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) runs a small dorayaki shop. A dorayaki is a type of pancake filled with red bean paste – sweet to the taste, but Sentaro never particularly cared for them. He’s running the shop as a way of paying off his debts to the shop owner. His shop is frequented by a group of giggly schoolgirls, including a quieter one called Wakana (Kyara Uchida). One day, an old lady approaches Sentaro about a job that he’s advertised. Tokue (Kirin Kiki) is 76-years-old and Sentaro thinks that she can’t cut it. When she provides some choice feedback on his doriyaki, he dismisses it. She finally convinces him when she leaves some of her homemade red bean paste for him to taste – and it’s far better than the mass-produced stuff he’s secretly been using. Tokue comes to work in the shop, showing Sentaro her technique for making red bean paste that she’s used for 50 years. Soon, queues appear and Sentaro is sold out of doriyaki. She gives him a new-found purpose in life and also bonds with Wakana, who has run away from home…

    Sweet Bean is a truly lovely film which transcends cultural boundaries to become something universal and heart-felt. With a script adapted by Kawase from Durian Sukegawa’s book, this is a story of three generations who find a common purpose in a world that seems to have abandoned them. Sentaro, Wakana and Tokue all have their own crosses to bear, the heaviest being Tokue. Her backstory is tragic, but her will for life and unyielding optimism acts as a catalyst in the hearts and minds of Sentaro and Wakana. Watching Tokue natter on about the special connection she has with the red beans is delightful. She teaches Sentaro that you have to put heart and TLC into making food. You believe her too – so convincing is Kiki’s outstanding performance.

    The third act tugs on the heart-strings, but not in a manipulative or cloying way. An initially simple scene involving an audio recording takes on great significance, leaving food for thought. Speaking of food, the doriyaki itself is a metaphor for the three characters – Sentaro and Wakana being the two outer pancakes and Tokue being the filling. After all, Tokue says the heart of a doriyaki is the red bean paste. She’s the heart of this sentimental Japanese film that barely puts a foot wrong. A sweet delight with a lot of soul. ****