Sweet Bean

Sweet Bean ★★★★

"Bulk order? How could you?!"

NOPEtober 2022 – Film #8 of 31

My first Naomi Kawase film comes during NOPEtober, the life-affirming drama of An ["Sweet Bean"], a movie about finding the joy in life in the simplest things despite the private pain and loss that we may feel within. We can all stand to do that for a moment, and this work reminds me to be grateful for what I have.

Also, it will make you hungry. Japanese filmmakers are probably the best in the world in incorporating food into narrative.

Dorayaki – the confection of "two small pancake-like patties made from castella wrapped around a filling of sweet azuki bean paste" – is the food of choice for a shop outside of Tokyo run by the stoic Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase), sparsely but loyally attended by locals from the youngest children to the oldest retirees. But looking to stay active is the elderly Tokue (Kirin Kiki), well into her seventies, who stops by after hearing Sentaro is looking for part-time help. This frail and gentle lady isn't dissuaded when he says the work is hard, and wins him over after an initial rejection when her bean paste is revealed to be sensational, far better than the commercial product Sentaro was buying. Loyal customer and local schoolgirl Wakana (Kyara Uchida) confirms the terrific recipe. The emotion that Tokue shows when she's able to work at the shop surprises and intrigues her new boss.

That's partially because she's nearly crippled in her hands, first thought to be simply from arthritic age, as she takes a great deal of time to prepare her splendid recipe. But when the shop explodes in popularity, customers notice that Tokue's hands are not deformed from decades of wear but another medical condition, a disease with a long history of misinformed prejudice. Is it appropriate for her to work here?

This is really well done. Sentimental without being too sweet or treacly, the revelation of Hansen's Disease is a surprise but an interesting twist I didn't see coming. It's odd how this affliction has such a terrible history of isolation and mistreatment, one reinforced by religious parables and biblical stories, that so many of us know about it and presume it's a condition from centuries or millennia ago. It's smart of writer/director Kawase to create this character in a modern setting, but also remind viewers that even recently there were injustices committed against people like her.

But there's a double layer of redemption when we learn more about Sentaro. And you know how this review feels about redemption arcs! I am for 'em. The more the merrier. Add to that an exquisite use of nature – Spring cherry blossoms and Autumn foliage – and filming from Shigeki Akiyama and you've got a winning work.

Despite the slightest bit of predictability after the two revelations, Sweet Bean is just excellent. It avoids any didactic dialogue about cherishing the little things and has audiences simply realize them instead, while showing us a message of tolerance and patience. Yes, Kawase shoots straight for the heartstrings but the film earns its heart-warming arc and heart-aching denouement.

I actually now recall, I have eaten a form of azuki red bean before, not with a pancake patty but made into ice cream. Where of all the places did I have this? Why, at Walt Disney World's Japanese corner of Epcot! This was literally 30 years ago I think, maybe more. I do not know how or why I remember it so clearly, but I do. My parents bought a small portion without telling me what it was, and made me try some before finally admitting what it was made from. Kids can be finicky, you know. I loved it! Years later, I can still recall exactly how it tasted.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: MovieManMark.
Find others like them on my two special lists here and here!

Removed from What's on My DVR?

Block or Report

🐱Andrew liked these reviews