Sweet Bean Review: Quintessential japaneasee drama without OMGs’

Sweet Bean

Sweet Bean - Credit: Archant

Directed by Naomi Kawase, Sweet Bean is classical Japanease cinema without the over dramatics

An excessive interest in the preparation of food is said to be a sign of a civilisation in decline: Nigella, Jamie, Gordon and Merryberry as the sous chefs of the apocalypse.

The Japanese are equally obsessed with cooking, but unlike here where the proponents of sugar tax employ a profligate approach to seasoning, the Japanese approach is about restraint and specialisation.

Gruff, cynical Sentaro (Nagase) only has to make Dorayaki, small pancakes filled with sweet bean paste, but he isn’t very good at it.

One day an elderly lady, Takuo (Kiki) comes along looking for work. She teaches him the secret of perfect sweet bean paste, and thus how to embrace life.

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This is the quintessential gentle Japanese drama. It starts with cherry blossom trees, and is about accepting life and the link between the generations.

The recipe is fundamentally sentimental, but made without the syrup. The three leads are all immaculate but Masatoshi Nagase is the stand out.

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Three decades ago he was the epitome of deadpan dullard cool as the Carl Perkins obsessed hipster in Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, and you fancy that his face hasn’t moved much in the subsequent years.

So when emotion attempts to seep through that craggy visage it is enormously touching and him breaking down in tears is heartbreaking, like a beautiful old disused building being demolished.

This is the kind of quality Japanese drama where nothing happens, mercifully.

These days we are hooked on dramatics, believe that a life without a conveyor belt of slanging matches and OMGs is one half lived.

Sweet Bean shows us that pottering along in a contented rut can be a great satisfaction.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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