Every once in awhile a film comes along, where the food, not the actors, not the dialogue, and not the scenery distracts you. But what happens when a film is built around the food, or even more precisely one particular food item?
Until I spent 113 minutes in Japan, via the film “An” at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, I had never heard of dorayaki. And my knowledge of an — the sweet red bean paste used to fill the pancakes — was limited to the red bean paste I had seen in the oriental supermarket in town.
Dorayaki are a type of Japanese confection, consisting of two small pancake-like patties made from castella sandwiched around a filling of sweet red bean paste. Legend has it that the first dorayaki were made when a samurai named Benkei forgot his gong (dora in Japanese) upon leaving a farmer’s home where he was hiding, and the farmer subsequently used the gong to fry the pancakes, thus the name Dorayaki.
Director Kawase Naomi’s film doesn’t mention the legend but instead focuses on an old lady, Tokue (Kiki Kirin) who one day shows up at a dorayaki stand run by Sentaro (Nagase Masatoshi). The area is filled with cherry blossoms, something that Tokue comments on and gazes at regularly. When her request for a job is politely turned down by Senataro, she returns to give him a box of her an, made — of course — to a special recipe.
In predictable format, the paste is so good that Senataro changes his mind and Tokue begins to teach him the art of making an. It’s time-consuming work. Pots are moved here and there, lids are lifted and lowered, and the beans are on the receiving end of quite a few conversations. However, apart from learning about a new (to me) treat to try in Japan and becoming more aware of the effort that goes into making home-made an, the dorayaki played a role that almost any dish with a handmade element could have filled — and that’s a shame.
“An” is a sweet (no pun intended) film that is likely to bring a tear or two to many people’s eyes. It will probably make you want to eat dorayaki while travelling in Japan, and it will make you think of a little old lady whenever you see red bean paste. But, sadly, in the food story department, you’ll be left hungry.