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Friday 1 January 2016

An, (Japan 2015), Film written and directed by Naomi Kawase, 7.5* out of 10

A moving tale of three outsiders, revealing a Japanese culinary speciality and an unknown chapter of a history of social exclusion. Actress Kirin Kiki shines in the main role. 

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is the grumpy manager of a small business specializing in red bean-paste cookies, called dorayakis.  Sentaro’s dorayakis are edible but not particularly tasty. His customers are mainly teenage-girls from the neighbourhood school. One of them is the solitary Wakana (Kyana Uchida) who finds Sentaro’s cookie restaurant a safe place to spend her afternoons. One day Tokue (Kirin Kiki), an elderly lady, appears and humbly yet persistently asks the reluctant Sentaro for a job. When she brings a sample of her home-made red-bean-paste the life of the three outsiders will become connected and impacted in unexpected ways.

The strength of Naomi Kawase’s film (adapted from a novel by Durian Sukegawa) lies in the substance of the story it tells, as it reveals an –at least in the West unknown aspect of Japan’s culinary offering and more importantly of its social history that still appears to impact people today. The slow pace in which she tells the story and reveals aspects of the character of the protagonists is another strength of this film. There area some flaws in the technique of the story telling particularly when there is an over-reliance on letters revealed in long voice over sequences. But the beauty of the photography, the sensitive performances by all the actors, with an outstanding one by Kirin Kiki, who in real life is Kyana Uchida’s (Wakana) grandmother, outweigh those weaknesses.

While other critics have been harsh with Kawase’s film, I believe that its inclusion in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s “Un Certain Regard”-section was justified. 

"An" is an unforgettable moving story told with delicacy and humour. It very much merits a visit to the cinema.


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