AN — SWEET BEAN — LES DÉLICES DE TOKYO — 2015
This film is very emotional but we must not let ourselves be taken over by our emotions or our empathy. The subject is a lot more complicated and even deeply frightening.
The subject of the film is social exclusion in the Japanese society in the twenty-first century. Several cases are envisaged. The central male character is an ex-con who had to buy his reinsertion in society after his prison time and he had to borrow money, which made him dependent on the lender who turned him into the manager, caretaker and only worker of his small shop that prepares and sells dorayakis (Dorayakis are a type of Japanese confection, а red-bean pancake which consists of two small pancake-like patties made from castella enclosing a filling of sweet Azuki red bean paste). Unluckily the sweet bean filling is industrial and very average. He can thus survive for as long as the widow of the man who lent him money does not decide to get rid of him to install a protégé of her own, a cousin or a nephew. In fact, it could be a lover too, since she is the owner and hence the real boss. Don’t misunderstand me: we are not dealing here with capitalism or whatever you may consider as economic exploitation. We are dealing with the tendency for those who have power and control to impose their decisions, even if they are not the good ones. It would be just the same in a system that would not be based on private property but on collective property that has to be managed anyway by an elite.
The second segregation is typical of Japan, though not only. Leprosy is a phenomenal disease. Lepers have always been expelled from society. They had a rattle in our Middle Ages they had to play all the time to warn people against themselves. In Japan that exclusion was enforced rigorously up to 1996 when it was repealed, but society remains segregative and continues to expel lepers from daily life and they are forced to live in some kind of ghetto and they are provided for by the state. They do not have to beg for their survival but they have no future, though they have plenty of time to observe society and as such to build a refuge for themselves under the small dome in which they have to survive right through till they die. But once again let me be very clear. We may have very few cases in our countries, in the West, but we have other groups of people we reject in a way or another, be they the gay and other LGBTQ people, or AIDS patients, women or men alike, not to speak of women often rejected because they are too fat, too skinny, too anything that does not correspond to the standard norm concerning them. And I could of course add the segregation based on racial criteria, religious parameters, and so many other elements. The rejected end up poor without any future and they will have to move into our modern suburban ghettos of council flats, subsidized apartments or housing, and these “social” projects with choke them to slow decaying and death.
In fact, that segregation can go very far. For example, “The New York Department of Housing Preservation and Development has approved plans for an apartment complex that has separate “rich doors” for luxury apartment owners and “poor doors” for those who live in its fifty-five affordable housing apartments, units the developer had agreed to include in the building in exchange for tax breaks.” (https://www.theonion.com/nyc-approves-apartment-building-with-separate-rich-doo-1819562284). Is it typical of the West, of developed countries, or of humanity? Does humanity always discriminate against some groups of people who become the open scapegoats or the victims of rejection and intolerance?
The film is quite brutal about it. As soon as the rumor has it that a leper is working in the store, the customers who had multiplied before thanks to the work of Tokue, the woman with leprosy, just immediately disappear, not to come back. So the owner is quite justified in firing the “manager” to refurbish the store and give it to her nephew or cousin, her singled-out human pet. Is human society that segregative? Is it that “racist”? Is it that intolerant to any difference or deviation from the norm?
Then the film is showing how even in such a dead-end or even cul-de-sac, the rejected person can help another rejected person who can start anew from scratch. Thus Tokue after dying gives her equipment to make the sweet bean filling to Tenkarô, so that he can start working again, if not in a shop, at least in public venues and in parks. Luckily humanity is resilient and the resilience of human beings is very often amazingly limitless. And it is true most men and women need that resilience to just bounce back up after the numerous and successive failures society imposes onto them.
A beautiful film and blooming Japanese cherry trees are very nostalgic for me since in Roubaix, where I lived 19 years, one avenue was lined on both sides with Japanese cherry trees that were blooming marvelously in April-May.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU