Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Naomi Kawase's SWEET BEAN: nature, nurture, connection and food preparation

Do you maybe need to get away from all this election-year idiocy the media is forever forcing down our collective throat? You won't find a better antidote than the new Japanese film opening this week: SWEET BEAN (An), from filmmaker Naomi Kawase. If you're a foreign film aficionado who enjoys a change of culture and attitudes -- not to mention the joys of cooking, eating and Japanese cherry blossoms -- I don't see how you can go wrong with this lovely, endearing movie.

Ms Kawase, shown at left, blends with a fine intelligence and visual flair the beauty and importance of nature with a moving portrait of humanity struggling to find its place in this world of ours. Her movie offers a near-pantheistic love and acceptance of the natural world as something as close to god as we are likely to get.  Less feel-good than it is feel-connected, Sweet Bean will entice you first of all with its great beauty and sensuousness, and then will bring you into the emotional life of its three main characters gracefully and deeply.

Its story is that of a loneliness felt by the film's major characters -- a high school student (Wakana, above), an old woman (Tokue, below) and the man (Sentaro, two photos below) who manages a small dorayaki shop (that's Japanese fast food: pancakes stuffed with bean sauce), who, once they meet, have much to offer each other.

How they slowly accept each other's help proves the basis and plot of a film that fills its 113 minutes with something as tasty and exquisite as Tokue's amazing bean sauce recipe. We've seen a lot of good movies about cooking over the years -- from Like Water for Chocolate to Chef and Haute Cuisine -- but none, I  think, create anything as magical as the moments in which Tokue prepares that special sauce.

The three performers here do much with relatively little. Elderly actress Kirin Kiki (Still Walking and Returner) is a marvel of tiny tics, big smarts and quiet strength, as real as she is odd and moving. Masatoshi Nagase (The Hidden Blade, Suicide Club, Mystery Train) has the fine ability to make the inner outer, while maintaining a tamped-down machismo. Kyara Uchida (from I Wish, and who is the granddaughter of Ms Kiki) plays the quiet student with a properly burgeoning sense of self-discovery and joy.

The filmmaker provides oodles of tiny, realistic detail that help keep Sweet Bean buoyed and rolling along. TrustMovies does not want to oversell this one because it is a small film -- even if its theme is, finally, quite a big one. I'll just say that my reaction after viewing it was one of gratitude.

From Kino Lorber, the film opens this Friday, March 18, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema, and is currently scheduled to play in nine other cities across the country, including here in South Florida at the Coral Gables Art Cinema on June 10. Click here then scroll down to see all playdates, cities and theaters.

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