2016 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Thirteen – SWEET BEAN
Day thirteen of the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival was for catching up with a film that I had high expectations for, Naomi Kawase’s SWEET BEAN (AN). Time is running out on the festival so there’s a sense of urgency is in order.
A quick synopsis, Sentaro (played by Masatoshi Nagase) is the operator of a small dorayaki stand. Dorayaki is essentially a Japanese sweet treat of essentially pancakes with a sweet bean paste filling, and you can tell that xx has no passion or love of his job, even if he is quite competent in making pancakes. You can tell he’s quite miserable and alone in his existence, the mystery of why that is will of course be addressed before the end of the film. One day, an old women with disfigured hands, Tokue (played by Kirin Kiki), applies for a part time position. Soon, she’s teaching him how to make excellent bean paste, to replace his awful canned variety, and boss and employee develop a strong bond. Even more so as he learns what she’s been through in life.
The film kind of blindsided me. I knew the general synopsis going in, but was expecting more of a comedy about cooking, perhaps with a bit of TAMPOPO in the mix. Instead I was treated to a gentle, measured drama about people seemingly abandoned by society. There are fine performances all around with Kirin Kiki being the standout. And there’s great beauty on display, it’s no coincidence that there are cherry trees outside the dorayaki stand which sway in the wind and blossom beautifully. This is a film that stops to take in the beauty of life around the shop and celebrates the little joys in life. Including the joy of cooking well without shortcuts no matter how arduous it may seem. Naomi Kawase is in total command of the tone and pace of the film and fills the screen with small but touching moments.
Is SWEET BEAN on the sentimental side? Absolutely. Is its message about the discards of society still having something to contribute and that there’s worth in paying attention to the stories of even the seemingly most insignificant perhaps familiar? That too. But, I was won over by the gentleness and patient beauty of the film. In the words of Filmspotting, it got awfully dusty in the theater by the end.
There are only a few days left in the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs through October 6th. Information and tickets on the remaining films are available at Milwaukee Film’s website.