Naomi Kawase had a film out in the UK earlier this year (Still the Water), and judging from the two films side by side, she has an affinity for a sort of nature-based spiritualism, with evocations of the trees and the moon looming large for her characters. This aspect, however, is more muted in An, which focuses more clearly on two characters: Sentaro (Nagase Masatoshi), a chef making Japanese sweets (dorayaki, pancakes with a red bean paste centre, the latter of which is the an of the film’s un-googleable title) at a roadside canteen, and the elderly woman Tokue (Kirin Kiki) who drops by to offer to help him make the bean paste. Of course, one can sense the direction of the film fairly easily from the outset, as Sentaro at first resists the advances of Tokue and then at length gives in when he finally tastes her an, and it certainly plays well on a sentimental level. Yet this is generally underplayed and never overcomes the film, which remains resolutely low-key and gentle. Over its running time, it becomes clear that both these central characters, for all their differences, share a history of entrapment, which provides the film’s emotional payoff. Yet An never forces itself on the viewer with any urgency, preferring a narrative of gentle undulations, and when seen alongside other festival films dwelling on emotional alienation and terror, it’s quite a refreshing experience.
Director/Writer Naomi Kawase 河瀨直美 (based on the novel by Durian Sukegawa ドリアン助川); Cinematographer Shigeki Akiyama 穐山茂樹; Starring Kirin Kiki 樹木希林, Nagase Masatoshi 永瀬正敏; Length 113 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank, London, Thursday 15 October 2015.