sweet red bean paste [あん]

I am just back from watching this Japanese movie by Naomi Kawase that came out last year and won Un certain regard award at the Cannes festival. It is indeed a movie with a most unusual “regard” and as such did not convince many critics. For instance, one Guardian critic summed up his view with the qualification of a “preposterous and overly sentimental opener to this year’s Un Certain Regard serves up major disappointment”. (As a contrapunto the finereview in Les Cahiers du Cinéma catches the very motives I saw in the movie.) And of course one can watch the movie as a grossly stereotypical and unreservedly sentimental lemon if one clings to realism. For me, who first and mistakenly went to see it as an ode to Japanese food (in the same vein as Tampopo!), it unrolled as a wonderful tale that got deeper and deeper consistence, just like the red bean jam thickening over the fire. There is clearly nothing realistic in the three characters and in the way they behave, from the unnaturally cheerful and wise old woman Tokue to the overly mature high-school student looking after the introspective cook. That no-one seemed aware of a sanatorium of lepers at the centre of town and that the customers move from ecstatic about the taste of the bean jam made by Tokue to scared by her (former) leprosy and that the awful owner of the shop where Sentaro cooks can be so obviously pressuring him, all this does not work for a real story, but it fits perfectly the philosophical tale that An is and the reflection it raises. While I am always bemused by the depth and wholeness in the preparation of the Japanese food, the creation of a brilliant red bean jam is itself tangential to the tale (and I do not feel like seeking dorayaki when exiting the cinema), which is more about discovering one’s inner core and seeking harmony through one’s realisations. (I know this definitely sounds like cheap philosophy, but I still feel somewhat and temporarily enlightened from following the revolutions of those three characters towards higher spheres in the past two hours!)

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