An (AKA Sweet Bean)

“An,” a Japanese word meaning “sweet red bean paste,” is used as filling in dorayaki, which are small circular pancake sandwiches. Much as an serves as the basis of dorayaki, so too does it play a central narrative role in director Naomi Kawase’s new film of the same name. Rhythms and repetition—among them the daily creation of an and dorayaki—form the basis of everyday life in the film.

Based on a novel by Tetsuya Akikawa, Kawase’s adaptation provides an intimate and immensely moving portrait of three lost people who come together and learn to find some direction in their lives.

The film introduces us to Sentaro, a quiet, unassuming owner of a small dorayaki shop in Tokyo. Dorayaki is ostensibly two small pancakes filled with a sweet red bean paste known as “an,” which is where the film’s title is derived. Business isn’t necessarily booming, save for Wakana, a young girl who frequents his shop. He and Wakana appear to be close, and when a 76-year-old woman named Tokue comes asking for a job, she ultimately talks Sentaro into at least giving her a shot. However, both Sentaro and Tokue get more than they originally bargained for when business explodes due to Tokue’s delicious sweet bean recipe, leading to some truly unexpected places.

Ultimately, An is a deeply enjoyable and lushly composed meditation on the admittedly maudlin idea of one’s need to stop and smell the cherry blossoms. While this is easily Kawase’s most accessible work to date, it’s also arguably her most slight.

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