I have been unable to attend the Brent U3A Film Group for a while but did manage it this month and saw Sweet Bean (2015). I had missed it at London Film Festival three years ago and looked forward to it.
It was greatly appreciated by the members of the group for its subtlety, its gentleness, and its emotional impact.
Unfortunately I did not engage in its ‘sweetness’. I found the pace too slow, the many close-ups interminable, the references to the connections between cooking and nature repetitive and was underwhelmed by its shots of the famous Japanese cherry blossom flowering season.
I found the narrative and the choice of the three characters as outsiders contrived: The teenager in conflict with her family, the young man in debt and ridden with the guilt of disabling a person in a fight and the old woman in a leprosy colony.
The most interesting aspect of the film to me was the fact that Tokue at 76 years of age was living in a leper colony and that the stigma of the disease was still strong. The film seemed to be contemporary.
Reading around the subject I am informed that Japanese laws about the segregation of people with leprosy were passed in 1907, 1931, 1953 and only abrogated in 1996.
The film did not touch me emotionally but made me think of the different reasons for the three characters’ isolation. In the teenager, the conflict with her mother seems common place. The young man’s guilt at the consequence of his drinking and violence was more interesting. But it is the old woman’s story that shocked me and stimulated me to know more about leprosy, the cruelty of segregation and prejudice until late in 20th Century in Japan.