CHERRY blossoms are an iconic part of Japanese culture. Glorious yet ephemeral, they encourage us to appreciate life’s intricate beauties as well as its transience.
It is under the glow of the Cherry Blossoms that Naomi Kawase’s 2015 film An begins. A story that, like much of Kawase’s previous work, wills us to pay attention to our relationship with nature as a way of enriching our lives. That being said, Kawase’s journey to this message is darker than we anticipate.
Sentarô (played by the impressive Masatoshi Nagase) is a baker in auto-pilot, making Dorayaki (sweet red-bean pancakes) for his slow-dripping stream of customers. He is clearly dissatisfied with his job (he later admits to not liking the sweet taste of Dorayaki) and even draws giggles from teen-girl customers with his sombre presence.
Sentarô‘s morose mask is lifted when he agrees to employ 76-year-old Tokue, a nurturing performance from Kirin Kiki. Tokue is a sweet lady with crippled hands and is hired to help cook and improve the quality of his red-beans. Kawase’s intimate camera style watches over the two as Tokue shows the jaded baker the importance of a loving approach to the sweet beans.
Both are clearly uplifted by their unshackled time together and share moments in the kitchen that are as sweet and warm as the tasty Dorayaki they produce.
Yet after an initial surge in customers raving about Tokue’s new recipe, rumours start to circle about the real reasons for her crippled hands. Consequently, the time Tokue and Sentarô spend working together is just like the cherry blossoms: uplifting and delightful but only momentarily so.
The revelations about Tokue lead the story down a different, anguished path of ignorance and prejudice, on which young teen Wakana (Kyara Uchida) also joins us. It is a solemn journey that Kawase folds together with images of nature for an ultimately hopeful ending.
Kawase’s film is a bittersweet tale that has a message far beyond its small treats. A film well worth chewing over. Rich and emotional fare.
An is available to watch on Sky CinemaThis was review 6/30 in April’s Close-up Culture Film Challenge – Female Filmmakers.