A truly delicious and incredibly sweet series about true friendship that, like love, goes right through the stomach.
The geisha profession is not only disappearing in Japan, but is also shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding. Geishas are ladies-in-waiting who are at home in many markets. They entertain their guests (and they are not only men) with dance, music and conversation, among other things. Especially in the past, there was sometimes a sexual component to their presence, but that role was minor and with the advent of professional escort agencies, that aspect almost disappeared completely.
The profession of geisha, or geiko as they are called in Kyoto, is highly respected and requires long training and strict discipline. That’s why it’s special that two sweet sixteen-year-old girlfriends from northern Japan drop out of school and decide to embark on a career as geisha. For that, it is required that they first become a geiko, maiko apprentice.
Kiyo lives with her grandmother, who loves to cook and offers the most delicious comfort food. Her best friend Sumire can count on little support from her family in her career plans. Her father doesn’t even wave to her as they board the bus to Kyoto. Arriving at the maiko’s house, the friends first have to do an endless series of chores.
It soon becomes clear that the ‘mothers’ who run the household and take care of the upbringing view Sumire as an almost ideal geiko. Kiyo, on the other hand, seems unsuited to the profession and is more at home as a culinary genius, like a makanai. While Sumire perfects the mai (traditional dance) and the many rituals, her friend supplies the house with the most delicious dishes. The many typical Japanese dishes are so tastefully portrayed that you see all these delicacies with water.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is based on the manga Kiyo in Kyoto and was created by the renowned Japanese film director Hirozoku Koreeda. It has resulted in a wonderfully warm feel-good series that hangs on love and sweetness without the enamel popping off your teeth. That is already clear when the girls on the bus put a sandwich in their mouths and sigh how delicious it is with their eyes closed.
It takes some knowledge of Japanese culture to feel all the nuances of this beautifully shot series, but that doesn’t have to stop the layman. The nine-part series is full of compelling complications and dilemmas, for what happens when a maiko falls in love and she may have to say goodbye to her upbringing? And how does the house deal with a maiko who was once in love with her and who wants to take up her education again?
Koreeda didn’t direct every episode, but his signature is immediately recognizable. You would suspect that the geisha profession is old-fashioned and quite gender-affirming, but nothing could be further from the truth. The creators show how geishas/geikos can still find a place in modern Japan. The question is, however, who can muster the perseverance to focus their entire life on the arts.
With their sweet presence, the two protagonists pay homage to true friendship, even when paths seem to separate and destinies seem to diverge. All this is complemented by authentic Japanese cuisine, where every detail counts and requires full dedication and attention. Well, actually a makanai and a maiko aren’t that different. This is a series that makes your mouth water. Itadakimasu!
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko can be seen in Netflix.