Director: Koreeda Hirokazu(是枝 裕和)
From the manga by Aiko Koyama
Starring: Nana Mori,Natsuki Deguchi,Aju Makita
Country (of film origin): Japan
TV Rating: 9/10
Foodie Rating: 9/10
Review: Cuisine and culture combine in an emotional and educational entertainment about Kyoto life, friends, futures and food.
There’s a line in anarchic 80s British TV show The Young Ones when punk student Vivyan, talking about a TV show, yells, “It’s so bloody nice!” Whereas his character despised feelgood TV, you just can’t help falling for the voie de vivre while watching The Makanai, a charming and quite delightful Netflix series. Based on the manga Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House by Aiko Koyama, the teleplay is written and partly directed by Koreeda Hirokazu, whose Palm d’Or winning film Shoplifters ( 2018) takes a very different perspective on food and society.
Kiyo Nozuki (Nana Mori) and Sumire Herai (Natsuki Deguchi) are two best friends from Aomori prefecture who leave the cold northern region of Japan to become maiko in Kyoto. Maiko are apprentice geiko (the Kyoto term for geisha) and the sixteen year olds will join the Saka establishment and train in the arts of traditional singing and dancing. This is a whole new world for the pair as they need to learn the etiquette and the correct way to address their superiors and other maiko in their house – the geiko are ‘mother’ and their maiko companions are referred to as ‘sister’. It’s hard work and the daily routines preparing for the coveted roles are tough as they train and practice new skills.
In fact, it’s so tough that Kiyo just can not meet the requirements of the training and the mothers sadly inform her that she will not become a maiko. However, they recognise that she is a hard worker and a great cook, so Kiyo stays in the maiko house to become a worthwhile addition to the business as a makanai. It is her job to purchase all the food and prepare delicious meals for the household. So she dedicates herself to getting up early in the morning to embark on shopping trips to familiarise herself with market vendors so that she can obtain the necessary ingredients.
It is fortunate that her grandmother taught her to cook because the plethora of delicious dishes that Kiyo can produce is awesome in its variety and each meal looks utterly delicious. Fortunate for foodie viewers the creation of these dishes is shown in vignettes which will not only have your mouth watering, they will provide lots of inspiration for future recipes.
And so we follow Sumire’s journey as she becomes a talented apprentice with huge potential to progress to becoming a respected maiko and Kiyo, who could have been immensely jealous of her friend’s success, is unwaveringly supportive and genuinely happy in her new role.
Traditional events, integral to Kyoto culture and cuisine, are depicted through the whole series. Perhaps the most significant event occurs in episode seven by which time Kiyo is fully established as the makanai. The geiko and maiko ladies start the new year by attending a formal ceremony. But Sumire falls ill and loses her appetite, and it is down to Kiyo to cook up some comfort food. She is advised to produce a traditional Kyoto based remedy – udon noodles in broth – which requires distinct ingredients and implementation that the exceptional cook must learn to create.
Her regular market proprietors advise on the best venues in obscure parts of town to get the required ingredients to make an exemplary dashi (broth). A prodigious bonito flake creator marks the beginning of her quest and an exemplary kombu (kelp) nori (seaweed) producer introduces her to perfectly dried sheets of seaweed. This is as much a learning experience for the viewer as it is for our protagonist, although we can but dream of such delicacies.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is a series unlike anything you have ever seen before. It is so full of companionship and understanding you genuinely take delight in the niceness portrayed; it’s as sweet as some of the immaculate desserts that Kiyo creates. When a series makes you want to have a delicately shaped egg sandwich and deep fry the crusts for an additional snacky surprise you know you have seen something different and delightful.
This is also a show about food and cookery in that the creation of the meals are an important element the story. And therein lies the show’s only real problem – you want there to be an ingredients list before each episode so you can make the dish afterwards. We’re definitely going to try some of the goodies that the maiko enjoyed. Be warned though – make sure you eat before watching or face inevitable pangs of hunger…
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