With cherry blossom, sweet red bean paste and lovable pensioners, Naomi Kawase’s An is a light, soft-centred Japanese fancy.
Eat, Drink, Pray, Loveby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
After the international success of her festival hit Still The Water, Naomi Kawase returns with An, loosely based on the novel by Durian Sukegawa. It’s the story of an (only slightly) embittered ex-con dorayaki café manager, who makes a good pancake but doesn’t quite have what it takes to produce the sweet red bean sauce filling. Until that is septuagenarian Tokue (Kirin Kiki) turns up looking for part-time employment. Diagnosed with leprosy as a girl, she’s spent her life quarantined in a sanatorium, honing her an recipe and filling it with love, as she imagines the soil, sun and wind that brush against the beans in the field. What follows is a fairly traditional cinematic relationship, as the man with the hard heart learns to dream again, thanks to his interactions with Tokue and a high-school girl who comes to his shop every afternoon. Filled with soothing images of cherry blossoms and red bean paste recipes, An is a sickly sweet story of empowerment, given a more solid centre thanks to a moving performance from Kirin Kiki and a (slightly baffling to non-Japanese audiences) side story about prejudice towards leprosy sufferers. Despite the sugar coating, there’s an intriguing but underplayed spiritual strand about stories carried on the wind. But filled with empty clichés and unambitious narratives, Naomi Kawase’s An leaves you hungry for more. If only for a more satisfying dorayaki.
An is now showing at the London Film Festival