Sweet Bean (2015)


Directed by Naomi Kawase
Country: Japan / other

“Sweet Bean”, a thoroughly acted Japanese melodrama directed by Naomi Kawase (“Still the Water”), concentrates on three lonely persons who suddenly see some light in their lives when in the company of one another. 

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase), a quiet man with a troubled past, sweats every day by working in a small dorayaki (Japanese red bean pancake) shop in order to pay his debt to the owner who once helped him getting out of a difficult situation. Despite not having a 'sweet tooth', Sentaro still puts all his effort to make the shop thriving, which is not so easy. The customers are no more than a few young students who go there and annoy him with their conversation. Still, he’s fond of a solitary girl, Wakana (Kyara Uchida), who always arrives after her fellow students to eat and collect the rejects.

One day, a fragile elderly woman comes in, motivated by a sign on the window saying they were looking for someone to work on a part-time basis. She introduces herself as Tokue Yoshii (Kirin Kiki) of 76 years old. Despite her crooked hands due to a horrible past of leprosy, she believes she could be a good fit since the bean paste has been her specialty for 50 years and Sentaro is using a tasteless industrial paste to make his recipes.
After tasting her paste, Sentaro gives her a shot and Tokue not only doesn’t disappoint him as she turns the tiny store into a huge success in town.
Things were running smoothly and Sentaro even takes a deserved day off, but the shop owner’s conniving wife (Miyoko Asada) has totally different plans for the business.

Ms. Kawase’s screenplay, based on Durian Sukegawa’s novel of the same name, uses complacent tones to invite us to reflection. However, what started interesting and strong, ends up mellow and weak. 
One can’t reproach the beautiful humanity presented in the story – new opportunities bring hope, hope brings life and success, which in turn bring confidence and clarity of thought. 
Yet, the modest, melancholic, and circumspect “Sweet Bean”, whose temperate matte cinematography by Shigeki Akiyama is seductive to the eyes, didn’t know how to balance the sugar levels. The result is way too saccharine for my personal palate.