An / Sweet Red Bean Paste / あん
Naomi Kawase has moved out of her tired and trite new-ageism into a more nuanced and substantial phase of her career with last year’s moving coming-of-age story, Still the Water, and now with An. The story’s pretty simple. Sentarou (Masatoshi Nagase – finally given a decent role in a worthwhile film to show his talent) is a beaten-down middle-aged ex-con, going through the motions of maintaining a tiny dorayaki shop. The place is frequented by a small coterie of high school girls, including Wakana (Kyara Uchida), in search of a father figure. Dingy old lady Tokue (the inimitable Kirin Kiki) arrives to save the day. She makes the best sweet red bean paste in Nihon. The initially reluctant Sentarou hires her and the business takes off. There are ups… and downs – and eventually Tokue ends up in nursing home. Kawase’s gentle take on this intergenerational trio travels a bit in a clichéd fetishism of Japanese food and exhibits some heavy-handed symbolism, but the great acting and smart direction give the story tons of emotional heft.
Originally published in EL Magazine, June 2015.