Sweet Bean

 

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A new but slighter film from the director of that underrated masterpiece Still the Water.

 
Sweet Bean

Kyara Uchida, Kirin Kiki and Masatoshi Nagase 

 

The latest film by the Japanese director Naomi Kawase finds her adapting a novel by Sukegawa Durian. It seems more commercially orientated than most foreign films released here but for all that it is heartfelt. It provides a key role for the veteran actress Kiki Kirin who appears with her granddaughter Uchida Kyara: they take the roles of Tokue and Wakana respectively. Tokue is a widow in her seventies who has developed a perfect recipe for dorayaki and offers her services to a shop that sells them. Wakana is a lonely schoolgirl who keeps a canary in her lodgings and who frequents the shop, while Nagase Masatoshi, seen as a youngster in Mystery Train (1989), plays the man well into his forties, Sentaro, who runs it. Initially Tokue's age causes him to ignore her request for work, but when he tastes her homemade bean jelly he relents and, once he has inserted her bean paste into his pancakes, the demand for the food sold in his shop soars.

 

Back in 1985 we had in Tampopo that rarity a Japanese foodie movie and now Sweet Bean sets out as another such. However, its comedy, deriving from the old woman understanding cooking better than Sentaro does, is of a gentle kind. Nicely played by all concerned and prettily shot in 'Scope and colour, the film is engaging, but after half an hour or so it looks as though an anecdote has been completed. How to keep it going to sustain a film lasting 113 minutes proves somewhat problematical.

 

In the event Sweet Bean keeps changing direction. Unexpectedly an alteration in tone sees it developing into a film of social concern regarding the way in which, despite changes in the law, those who have suffered from leprosy are treated in Japan. In addition the film seems in time to move away from Tokue as its central figure to feature the woman who actually owns the shop (Asada Miyoko) and whose plans for it threaten to change its character. After that the film turns its attention to the troubled history of Sentaro before ending up as what in a Hollywood treatment would be an all-out weepie.

 

Not surprisingly these contrasted elements make it a work that lacks true cohesion, even if its philosophy and stress on nature do in a more superficial way link up with Still the Water and prevent the film from becoming maudlin. This film always looks handsome and its heart is certainly in the right place, but its failure to hang together makes it an uneven piece despite its essential likability.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kiki Kirin, Nagase Masatoshi, Uchida Kyara, Asada Miyoko, Ichihara Etsuko.

 

Dir Naomi Kawase, Pro Fukushima Koichiro, Sawada Masa and Oyama Yoshito, Screenplay (from the novel An by Sukegawa Durian) Naomi Kawase, Ph Akiyama Shigeki, Pro Des Heya Kyoko, Ed Tina Baz, Music David Hadjadj, Costumes Kobayashi Miwako.

 

Comme des Cinéma/Kumie/Kazumo/Nagoya Broadcasting Network/Twenty Twenty Vision-Eureka Entertainment.
113 mins. Japan/France/Germany. 2015. Rel: 5 Aug 2016. Cert. PG.