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Sweet Bean 

Wednesday, Apr 6 2016
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Dorayaki is a Japanese confection consisting of two small pancakes with a filling of red bean paste. In Naomi Kawase's Sweet Bean, Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a glum peddler who doesn't care for the stuff and substitutes a canned paste. Frail yet cheerful old Tokue (Kirin Kiki) talks her way into becoming his assistant, and her passion for making the paste from scratch intrigues him, as does the fact that it actually makes his product delicious. But both have secrets — namely, why Sentaro continues to run a business he has no passion for, why Tokue's hands are so gnarled, and where she goes at the end of the day. It's a variant on the Sad Bastard genre, but it's refreshing that the Woman Who Teaches the Man to Live is significantly older; it's more Harold and Maude than Manglehorn. Even the third lead, the equally dour schoolgirl Wakana (Kyara Uchida), is presented as another lost soul, not a romantic interest or eye candy. The meditative Sweet Bean is veteran director Kawase's first film to receive domestic theatrical distribution — probably because arthouse audiences love them some food porn — and the real eye candy is the many close-ups of simmering beans. Sweet Bean is no East Side Sushi, but it does have moments to savor.

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Sherilyn Connelly

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