あん An (Sweet Bean, 2015)

BFI London Film Festival This film was presented at the London Film Festival. There was no introduction or Q&A afterwards.


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.

Sweet Bean film posterCREDITS
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.

2つ目の窓 Futatsume no Mado (Still the Water, 2014)

There’s a languorous pace to this small-town drama from Japanese director Naomi Kawase, though it starts with the shocking image of a heavily-tattooed man drowned face down in the crashing surf. After that everything settles down a little into a story of a young man Kaito (Nijiro Murakami) and woman Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga) getting to know one another, cycling home from school, hanging out with their respective families, every so often flaring up with a little hint of some deeper, buried emotions. It’s a narrative which follows the crashing of the waves on the shore, as the title suggests, and fans of pathetic fallacy will find plenty of it in this film. It’s also deeply imbued with a sense of the spiritual dimension of nature — Kyoko’s dying mother, for example, is a village shaman, and there’s an almost mystical dimension to the ancient banyan tree outside their back door, as indeed there is to much of the film. Yet none of this is forced by the film (the trailer is another matter entirely). It reminds me of Terrence Malick’s vision of war in The Thin Red Line, a film far more about man’s relationship to nature than it ever was a story about war. Here we have a different genre (the coming-of-age film) similarly refracted through a story of two humans within a larger system. There’s still a certain underlying portentousness, but it’s matched by a simple lyricism that I at least enjoyed.

Still the Water film poster CREDITS
Director/Writer Naomi Kawase 河瀨直美; Cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki 山崎裕; Starring Nijiro Murakami 村上虹郎, Jun Yoshinaga 吉永淳; Length 110 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury, London, Sunday 5 July 2015.