Film review: An – Naomi Kawase urban fable about the small joys of life
Kirin Kiki dazzles as an eccentric old lady in a gentle film that’s a sensual delight
There’s a zen-like composure to An’s trio of protagonists, who work and talk and generally behave as if they would never raise their voices. A Cannes Film Festival regular whose poetic but off-puttingly arcane films have seldom ventured beyond the art-house circuit, Japanese director Naomi Kawase has pulled off a delicate balancing act between the esoteric and the genuinely affecting with her latest film.
The Japanese title An refers to the sweet red bean paste inside traditional dorayaki pancakes, which Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) makes and sells at a corner store in a suburban Tokyo neighbourhood. An unenthusiastic baker with a questionable past, the man’s discreet, solitary life is given new sparks when a quirky elderly woman, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), asks for a job in exchange for her secret recipe for the paste.
Just as sales takes off and Sentaro begins to find a purpose in his daily chore, rumours that Tokue is a leprosy patient spread after an accidental discovery by the runaway schoolgirl Wakana (Uchida Kyara, Kiki’s granddaughter), a regular customer who is fond of both Sentaro and Tokue. Whether the store gets its reputation right is irrelevant: the film is less concerned about its destination than the process to get there.
Although this adaption of a Durian Sukegawa novel marks a rare departure for Kawase, who nearly always writes her own script, An is still very much the sensual delight one expects from the auteur. As gorgeous scenes of cherry blossom intersperse the gentle story about making the most of one’s confined existence, it culminates in a simple yet enchanting fable about life’s infinite small pleasures.
An opens on January 28