Sweet Bean masterfully evokes emotions through three different generations that evolves around the delicious japanese delicacy, dorayaki, a sweet pancake treat. Director, Naomi Kawase, tugs at the heart strings whilst serving up a plate full of pancake porn, thus creating something sweet that will sit heavy in your heart.
Starring Masatoshi Nagese as Sentaro, a lonely manager of a small dorayaki shop with little custom. The most customers Sentaro sees are the kids after school who make fun of his dorayaki for being mediocre. One of the kids, Wakana (Kyara Uchida), is interested in the job vacancy for the shop despite the little custom it gets. Wakana has competition however, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), a senior citizen who seems very interested in making the red bean paste for Sentaro's pancakes. Sentaro is reluctant to hire Tokue due to her age and crippled hands, but Tokue's determination perseveres and when Sentaro tastes her recipe he can't say no. There is something genuine about all these characters as they all share something that darkens them yet they come together to make something beautiful.
Making the sweet bean paste, known as an, is a very lengthy process and just to emphasize this Kawase makes this scene over drawn and mostly shoots with long takes and little cutting, like a bad cooking show. It's a beautiful scene however and can be much appreciated if you enjoy watching the process of making something. The dynamics between Sentaro and Tokue is enough to entertain you, they both carry an air of mystique and warmth. It is also very satisfying to see the outcome of all this hard work and see the small dorayaki shop thrive for the first time in this film.
Of course this idyllic situation does not last very long when Tokue's secret is revealed. It's a tear jerker to be sure and it drastically changes the tone of the film. It becomes a tormenting reflection on each of the character's past and present. Kawase may have prolonged this a little too much and though the film is wonderfully shot with beautiful settings, there isn't quite enough plot to stimulate the viewer. The actor's ability to draw us in by conveying strong and real emotions in the most subtle way is what really carry's the film. We want to know where these characters are going to end up and Kawase manages to convey this with a wonderful air of grace in the final scene.
With food and emotions going hand in hand, Sweet Bean is definitely up there in the good foodie movies. It's delicate like most of Kawase's films though it is also straight forward and more accessible than her previous, if a little long drawn with the mixture of art-house and story. If you can't be warmed by Tokue's passion for making Doriyaki you'll at least be craving them.
SWEET BEAN / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY:
NAOMI KAWASE / STARRING: KIRIN KIKI, MASATOSHI NAGESE, KYARA UCHIDA / BASED ON
THE NOVEL BY DURIAN SUKEGAWA / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW