Book & Movie Review: Sweet Bean Paste

Rating: 4/5

What It’s About:

Sentaro has failed. He has a criminal record, drinks too much, and his dream of becoming a writer is just a distant memory. With only the blossoming of the cherry trees to mark the passing of time, he spends his days in a tiny confectionery shop selling dorayaki, a type of pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

But everything is about to change.

Into his life comes Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a troubled past. Tokue makes the best sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She begins to teach him her craft, but as their friendship flourishes, social pressures become impossible to escape and Tokue’s dark secret is revealed, with devastating consequences.


The Book

Sweet Bean Paste is a filled with a pure and quiet beauty that tugged at my heart strings. The main characters, Sentaro and Tokue were so endearing and I loved the relationship development between the two. There were many moments of an older generation passing on knowledge to younger generations, not just with making the bean paste but also in general life.

I definitely got that “slice of life” feel while reading Sweet Bean Paste. The author created an atmosphere that you can’t help but stop and observe the graceful scenes. The parts where Tokue would teach Sentaro how to make bean paste was intriguing. I’m not familiar with Japanese confectionery, so much of that was new to me. Everything sounded so tasty! Even the descriptions of nature and weather transported me to Japan.

*minor spoiler ahead*

The element of Japanese leprosy sanatoriums included in the story surprised me. This element played a big part in the story and was heartbreaking. It inspired me to learn more about these sanatoriums and the treatment of patients. It reminded me of what I had learned about Japanese incarceration camps, when I read No Quiet Water (my review). This article by The Guardian gives a quick overview on the topic of victims of leprosy in Japan.

The Movie

While I was reading this book, I kept picturing a vivid anime or Miyazaki film that could capture the grace of the author’s writing. Then I came across the film and had an amazing time watching it. The film perfectly depicted the same slice of life essence. Having the background knowledge from the book, I was able to fill in all the things left unsaid in the film with what I remembered from the book. The actors in the film just about made my heart burst with how well they portrayed the characters. I may have cried a few times.

I would recommend reading the book first and then watching the movie. If you are a fan of Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi (my review), then you will certainly like Sweet Bean Paste.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear what you thought.

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