Directed by Naomi Kawase
Opening Film, Un Certain Regard, 2015 Cannes Film Festival
Official Selection, 2015 Toronto International Film Festival
Naomi Kawase’s most tender and accessible film to date is AN, named after the sweet red bean paste that is truly one of the stars of the show. The titular delicacy makes its appearance in the pastry shop of Sentarou (played by Masatoshi Nagase of The Hidden Blade and Kano, SDAFF ’14). He’s a gruffly loner whose only friends are the teenagers who frequent his shop to eat his dorayaki and make fun of his humorless face, the sort that betrays the fact that, though he makes pastries, he probably doesn’t have a sweet tooth in him.
Sentarou needs help and he finds it in a surprising place: a mysterious woman in her mid-70s named Tokue (the peerless Kirin Kiri), anxious for work and possessing a red bean recipe five decades in the making. More than a list of instructions, her method is a lifestyle and worldview, a respect for natural processes that allows inner energies to shine through in the luscious, glistening pastry filling that turns Sentarou’s shop into a local favorite. However, Tokue has other secrets and they threaten the future of the pastry shop and the solace that she had brought to Sentarou.
As in many of Kawase’s films, AN is an observant film of ordinary people’s relationships with nature. Here, it is nature seen through the eyes of outcasts who find in the blossoming cherry trees or the sound of boiling beans a life-force denied to them by society. Relaxed and as sweet as an itself, Kawase’s latest is a dedication to a life lived with skill and purpose. –Brian Hu