Masatoshi Nagase, Kirin Kiki, Kyara Uchida, Miyoko Asada
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…a simple pleasure…
Director, Naomi Kawase, has made over a dozen features, but she is still not that well known internationally. Her last film, Still The Water, received critical acclaim, and this gentle tale should extend her reputation. It is a simple enough story, but engaging if you re-tune your expectations away from the busyness of Hollywood fare.
Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man running a small doryaki (pancake) cafe in the city. He has a “past” (we later find out), and that might account for his daily sense of irritation as he sweats to make the perfect doryaki. He cannot help being slightly annoyed by the giggling school girls who gather in his cafe. One day, an old lady called Tokue (Kirin Kiki) walks in. Even though she is 76, and has damaged hands, she is very keen to get the lowly job of kitchen hand. When she makes an azuki bean paste that is simply the best ever, Sentaro hires her. The film then follows their unlikely friendship.
If all this sounds a bit inconsequential, it is. An contains relished foody pleasures, but it certainly isn’t fast; the first reveal isn’t until about forty minutes in. By then, we have had so many loving close-ups of bubbling red beans that you feel like changing your diet. However, the part of Tokue is very well played by Kiki (if this is remade into English, they would have to cast Maggie Smith). It is a calm, centred performance, as it needs to be. She has a sort of end-of-life wisdom, a sense of finally getting in rhythm with nature in order to savour our brief time on earth. It is a simple pleasure but, like the doryaki pancake, there is sweetness within.