You will learn three words: makanai, maiko, geiko. The first cooks, the second is an apprentice geisha, the third is confirmed in the art of pleasing very refined gentlemen, who never touch her, but watch her dance, sing, play music, or keep them company with an ancient art in well-frequented bars. Sumire and Kiyo, inseparable 16-year-old friends, both left their mountain village to attend a maiko school in Kyoto. A sort of boarding school for young girls, classical dance lessons, a school of good manners, in an exclusively female world, both very family-oriented and harsh.
The great Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (director “The Good Stars” released in December), Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018 for “A Family Affair”, revolves around a single theme, which has been constantly explored since its inception: how to leave a dysfunctional family to create another, which will be too, but in a less toxic and more fulfilling way.
Kiyo was raised lovingly, yet lonely, by her grandmother, Sumire, by her father. Lack is always at the heart of the filmmaker’s blended families. The two teenagers will find surrogate mothers, who also play the role of father, authoritarian and gentle at the same time, new sisters, while remaining fixed on their unbreakable family atom, their own friendship. Sumire has everything to become the purest of geishas, Kiyo has nothing, too clumsy, less elegant and motivated. On the verge of being expelled, she will find her passion, save her friendship and her adopted family by discovering her vocation: to make the most refined cuisine possible. Leader, without the title or the glory.
A fine picture of the human condition, of loneliness, of the bond
Nothing is revealed, all these elements appear from the first minutes of this series in nine episodes, unveiled this Thursday, January 12 on Netflix. It is afterwards that we savor the taste, once accustomed to a slowness and an all-Japanese grace. Yes, you can film aubergines in a frying pan like a painting by Manet. Cooking is an art, and Kiyo’s journey dazzles with less sparkle, but just as much depth, as her friend’s on her long road to becoming an accomplished maiko. A woman like a work of art, but who will remain alone. The geisha rarely marries or then gives up her profession, even if it means returning to it after a divorce. By losing feathers.
Kore-eda depicts all these nuances of a traditional culture alive and well in contemporary Japan. A man here can cry with emotion while savoring a dish that reminds him of his childhood, such as Proust’s little madeleine, Kyoto version. A range – no pun intended – of women with extremely different destinies and ages in this artistic refuge also gives a good idea of a Japanese society that never forgives anyone, but where mutual aid acts underground.
We slowly enter the series, but we come out grateful in front of such a fine picture of the human condition, of loneliness, of the bond, of the beauty so ephemeral, of all that is at stake at every moment in a life. Time passes, the snow falls, the child chrysalis will become a butterfly woman who flutters in a kimono in the colors of paradise. No one can live alone. Nothing is written. And above all, to be happy, eat! This ascetic painting conceals an apology for gluttony and love, whatever its form.
” Makanai: in the maiko kitchen », Japanese series by Hirokazu Kore-eda, based on the manga by Aiko Koyama, with Nana Mori and Natsuki Deguchi… Nine 40-minute episodes, on Netflix
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“Makanai, in the maiko kitchen” on Netflix: Kore-eda among apprentice geishas