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Sweet Bean [An], directed by acclaimed Japanese director Naomi Kawase (The Mourning Forest, Still the Water) is a sweet and beautiful small-town drama about a struggling food vendor whose small shop becomes incredibly popular when an elderly woman shares her sweet red bean paste recipe with him.
Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) grudgingly runs a small dorayaki shop and is surprised when an old woman named Tokue (Kirin Kiki) says she wants to take up his offer for part-time work. After sampling her amazing sweet red bean paste, the food vendor decides to hire her. As the two spend more time together, Sentaro begins to slowly realize why Tokue is such an odd old woman, which forces him to make some tough choices.
Sweet Bean sets a very deliberate, slow pace that allows the simplistic story to gently unfold. It can sometimes feel like its testing the limits of your patience, especially since the story intentionally lacks any real surprises, but the movie is so singularly committed to its humble tone that it’s hard to find fault with it.
The overall theme of the movie is that everyone and everything has a story to tell, which is conveyed both through the narrative, which tackles issues of prejudice and segregation, as well as the strikingly evocative imagery of nature. Sweet Bean is a movie packed with color and movement, but in a very delicate way that feels both soothing and meaningful.
Kirin Kiki delivers a very moving performances as the quirky, but endearing Tokue, which offsets Nagase’s quiet, melancholic Sentaro perfectly. The two work so well together that the inclusion of another character, a young girl named Wakana (Kyara Uchida), feels unnecessary.
If there is any significant fault with Sweet Bean, it’s that Wakana feels entirely disposable. She adds so little that she could have easily been written out or condensed into Sentaro’s character. It’s easy to see how she could have been integrated into the story in a more meaningful way, what with her youth contrasting Tokue’s age, but Sweet Bean doesn’t really explore that. Wakana has enough scenes to be somewhat of an annoying distraction, but not enough to have much of a point in the story.
Overall, Sweet Bean‘s greatest strength is how endearingly earnest and, well, sweet it is. It’s a very heartfelt story about people on the outskirts of society and the challenges they face both individually and together. The slow, measured pace may not be to everyone’s liking, but if you do have the patience for it, you’ll probably find Sweet Bean to be a truly rewarding and soothing experience.
Sweet Bean will be released in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on the 5th of August.