"あん, An" ("Sweet Bean")
In «あん, An» («Sweet Bean»), Sentaro runs a small bakery that serves dorayaki (pastries filled with red bean sauce and sweets called «an»). He reluctantly agrees when an older woman, Tokue, offers to help him in his kitchen. But Tokue will prove to have magic in his hands when making «An».
Thanks to her secret recipe, the small business begins to flourish. As time goes by, Sentaro and Tokue open their hearts to each other to reveal old wounds. The secret of preparing the red azuki bean paste is the thread that runs through the story. The quality of the batter used to fill the two pancakes determines the taste of the dorayaki. And Tokue’s recipe awakens the sensibility of well-made food versus fast food.
Three souls in need, each with their own story, as «everyone in this world has something to tell,» one only has to know how to observe, listen, attend, and appreciate. Naomi Kawase’s human film is enthusiastic, delicate, and supreme, an enveloping, sensitive, gentle drama that encourages us to observe without haste.
The film takes its time to express, clarify, touch, and unite a trio in desperate need of comfort, support, reinforcement, and self-understanding about the mistakes and hopes that open up the opportunity to heal, hope, strengthen and bring enough courage to step forward and move on.
Naomi Kawase, Japanese screenwriter and film director
When we think of Japanese film directors, our heads will be filled with names, but if we are asked to cite female directors from the land of the rising sun, Naomi Kawase will invariably be the first, if not the only one, to spring to mind. And not because there are no other Japanese filmmakers, of which there are many, but because she has been the most recognised at the major international film festivals.
Naomi Kawase, the film’s director, creates on this occasion a crystalline, diaphanous work, full of beautiful twists and turns, revelations, and scents that those who see it will enjoy. It oozes sensitivity on all four sides. Its viewing is a gift – almost an offering – that sows unsuspected and profound gratitude—highly recommended for spirits without prejudices and with a desire to be seduced by a different sap.
It is not surprising that the Olympic Committee selected her to immortalise 2020 (held in 2021) Tokyo Olympic Games, as happened in China with Zhang Yimou (2008 Beijing and 2022 Winter Olympics), or as Leni Riefenstahl did in those, somewhat more controversial but cinematographically unique, Olympic Games in Nazi Berlin that shaped the way we see the Olympics today .
All beings, even the most modest, have a story to tell.
«An» is a very melancholy drama, centred on the bonding that takes place between three losers as they meet in a small bakery in Tokyo; or rather, a little stall dedicated, basically, to making «dorayaki» (pancakes filled with bean jam). But the plot is more interested in unveiling the secrets that both Tokue (a superb Kirin Kiki) and Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) carry with them, which will bring them closer together through loss and renunciation.
The three main characters – the image of youth, maturity, and old age – have suffered or are suffering from coercion: savage social prejudice turned into law, a fortuitous event in the past, and the lack of maternal affection. Out of all of them, Tokue becomes a teacher of inner freedom: despite all the (monstrous) obstacles, she is a woman who is happy and authentic in her decisions, with a solid commitment to hope.
The film: Delicacy and vindication
Delicacy, calm, love for the changing details of nature, respect for others, the achievement of a vital dream, living in peace with oneself, the environment, and others… The story is a melancholy tale full of charm and sweetness, a tale of learning, a rediscovery of the world, a rebirth to life.
Above all, it is a contemplative chronicle that speaks to us of the difficulty of realising all the potential we carry within us and expressing it to those around us, sharing the ups and downs of existence without regrets or excuses, and always being grateful for every small link we establish along the way.
This is also a film that can also be viewed as a vindication (of the role and importance of women in society as more connected to the essence of things; of certain collective faults of the Japanese people in some almost unknown episodes; of the value of maintaining respect and contact with your fellow human beings -be they family, friends, plants or animals; of the consideration we owe to the entire microcosm that surrounds us.
But it does so without fuss or fanfare, stridency or preaching, but from a serene, understanding, and compassionate gaze that encompasses everything and conveys an ecumenical harmony to the captivated viewer.
Things made with love among economic globalisation
Sentaro and Tokue form a tandem that demonstrates the power of things made with love, which goes against the economic interests of a globalised society. Tokue talks to the beans and the moon. His gaze is always directed towards the sky, contemplating the cherry blossoms, which welcome spring and symbolise the ephemerality and fragility of life.
Issues such as loneliness in a big city, the vagaries of modern economics, which are destroying private lives, and unscrupulous social ostracism are mentioned along the way but never dealt with in any depth. Kawase seems to have had the aim of confronting three different generations in An and allowing the older one to share her wisdom and experience with the younger two.
It highlights the life of man and woman linked to that of other men and women, to nature, death, and grief, peace and reconciliation, intergenerational bonds and reverence for old age, and the grandeur of the small and discreet. He succeeds in erecting an elegy on love, loneliness, pain, the passing of time, and lost illusions.
Tokue: an unsung heroine with a universal message
For the protagonist of this story, the elderly Tokue, nothing is small enough; she believes that all beings, even the most modest, have a story to tell. And that is why she is also capable of listening to humans, even if they are locked in solitude and silence, as is the case with the other two protagonists, who complete a kind of «three ages» picture. It is not often that we have the opportunity to see women of this age in cinema and the character of Tokue is particularly touching and endearing
In the film, Tokue states that «We were born into this world to see and listen to it,»; a sentence that is a perfect summary of Naomi Kawase’s cinema. To see and listen. Unhurriedly and with a deep gaze. Surely, this moving story will encourage us to live and enjoy life moment by moment, regardless of the obstacles and blows it may bring.
In Japan, under cherry blossoms, we finish another stage of our «Journey to the East«…