Grumpy Sentaro (Nagase) runs a tiny shop that sells only dorayaki (small pancakes filled with bean paste) but admits he doesn’t have a sweet tooth; the sullen loner has no love for the job and gives the chattering teens free treats so they'll leave. He's approached by the seventy-six-year-old Tokue (Kiki), a sweet woman with gnarled hands, who fancies the part time job advertised in the ship window. Initially reluctant to hire someone so old, Tokue's tasty bean paste soon has people queuing up around the corner.
Director Naomi Kawase ensures the film exists in the smaller moments of the story. If one isn't enthralled in Tokue meticulous approach to her bean paste preparation – she recommends they start at 6am so it will be ready by 11am, which riles the impatient Sentaro – one hasn’t tapped into the mood of the piece. So much is left unsaid. There's no gushing of emotions and when backstories and home lives are teased out - the tragic circumstances that caused Sentaro to run the shop and the unveiling of Tokue's secret – they are discreetly revealed. Keeping with the restrained mood, the big turnaround in characters' attitudes aren't the grand moments expected but deliberately low-key; the change in Sentaro in the last scene is subtle yet seismic. It’s a pretty too with Sentaro's dorayaki shop in the shade of a beautiful cherry tree.
But Kawase doesn't have it all her own way. The story struggles to find anything for lonely teen Wakana (Uchida, Kiki's real life granddaughter), who hangs out at the shop from time to time, to do; her home life isn’t terrific (her mother isn’t exactly a warm person) and she's under pressure to get rid of her bird as pets are forbidden in her apartment complex. But Kawase fails to unite the unlikely trio, who in their own respects are aloof to community life. The film too could have called time on proceedings on at least three occasions but decided to amble on, ramping up the melodrama adding more needless heartache and tears.
That's not to say an errant tear will be wiped away though – this is a touching if slow-moving drama.