Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) runs a small pancake shop mostly visited by school girls like the shy Wakana (Kyara Uchida) who often comes to visit and gets the misshapen pancakes from Sentaro. Sentaro is dutiful in his upkeep of the shop, but it is clear that his heart isn’t really in it. When one day the well over 70 years old Tokue (Kirin Kiki) shows up and asks whether she can fulfill her lifelong dream of working in just such a pancake shop by helping him out, Sentaro isn’t convinced she can actually handle things. But she convinces him with her home-made An, sweet red bean paste. But just as they start to really get into working with each other, the fact that Tokue has leprosy makes the rounds, which people see as a health risk.
An is a sweet film (no pun intended) with a slightly cheesy story that is built around a firm core of social criticism.
An tells the story of three people who are outcast from society in one way or another and who find companionship, friendship and solace with each other, at least for a while. One can imagine that sometimes that story can get a little tear-jerk-y and that maybe the symbolism is a little heavyhanded at times. But An never overdoes it or loses its charm.
Kawase takes her time telling the story, giving us the time to really get to know the film’s protagonists. That means when does tear-jerk-y moments do come, you don’t feel like you’re being manipulated for the sake of extorting a few emotions paired with a couple of tears. You’re actually feeling with the people you feel like you’ve been knowing much longer than the film lasts.
A lot of that is due to Tokue, a wonderfully warm person who is not only loveliness personified, but also the glue that holds the entire film tolgether. Kiki gives a wonderful performance and manages to stave off the trope of the person with disabilities who is too good and pure for this world for the most part. She doesn’t manage entirely bur it was enough that I could ignore that part of the film and just go with the flow.
And the film has a strong flow that keeps the story moving nicely although not much happens. But Kawase and her cinematographer Shigeki Akiyama provide so many details in their beautiful shots (both in close-ups and totals) that it is still a lot to take in and keep you occupied. Wonderful images, great cast and a touching story: there is not much that could make this film better.