Sweet Bean (2015) – JAFF Jogja 2016 Review

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Review: Sweet Bean observes a sweet, subtle chemistry between a desperate man with an elderly woman through the making of sweet bean paste for Japanese-classic pancake, dorayaki. Here, sweet bean paste becomes a symbolic connection of present and paste in a frame of troubled people, living in alienation and barely having life.
Sweet Bean (2015) – Kirin Kiki | Image via themoviedb.org
A young dorayaki vendor, Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase from Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train), lives the same day over and over again from a small, traditional patisserie unhappily. Dispirited, he is only doing this to pay for his past debt to the owner of the patisserie. This whole thing is never been his passion; and, even he never eats a whole dorayaki.
One day, a mysterious  70-something woman comes to him, offering an assistance to be Sentaro’s kitchen assistant, which he reluctantly takes. Tokue (inspiring Kirin Kiki), the elderly woman, immediately makes impact as she begins crafting her sweet bean paste the retro-way in one of possibly the most mouthwatering sequences in this film. With her paste, the ‘new’ dorayaki suddenly becomes a new phenomena around the neighborhood.
Before long, a young school girl from a broken family, Wakana (Kyara Uchida) finds comfort in the patisserie, especially by the presence of Tokue. However, the happiness is short-lived, as a rumor starts to sparkle, unraveling Tokue’s real identity, igniting a conflict I might not want to describe.
Sweet Bean (2015) – Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida | Image via themoviedb.org
Before the conflict embarks, Sweet Bean presents a profound relationship study through silence and occasional warm dialogues between two persons in a small, confined kitchen. In doing so, writer-director Naomi Kawase loves to device close-ups, either to people or food, to evoke sense of intimacy from the undertow. There’s a glory in details as Kawase observes even the tiniest gesture and facial expression to convey emotion. The chemistry between the leads can be felt as it astoundingly filled the screen. More to it, she fluently exposes the paste-making process with precision and close-ups, highlighting a sense of craftsmanship and experience in the air.
Once the conflict embarks, those intimacies are pulled into a new direction. In this phase, Kawase loves to highlight lonesome in pictures; without explicitly mentioning it, but using pictures to present it. The low-key cinematography sparks like a poetry, as if the nature is talking to audiences the way it talks to Tokue. Given the profound presentation in the beginning, those gravitational-pulled revelations weigh Sweet Bean down, making it a little sour but never really wipes off the sweetness that’s already lingered.
In the end, Sweet Bean becomes an allegory of dorayaki itself. It is sweet most of the time, but at some points, it’s cloying and tasteless. Yet, in the end, the sweetness that lingers is what we remembers long after we finish enjoying it.

Sweet Bean (2016)

Drama Written & Directed by: Naomi Kawase based on a book by Durian Sukegawa Starred by: Kirin Kiki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kyara Uchida Runtime: 113 mins

4 thoughts on “Sweet Bean (2015) – JAFF Jogja 2016 Review

  1. I liked the first half of the film, before the conflict was revealed. I wasn’t sure if I would like where the film would go but I did like how it end, even when the part in between seemed lacking to me. The director paid a lot of attention during the first half that after the rumor, I felt that things have been swept under the rug just to move things along. Still, it was visually stunning. Great review.

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