The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Review

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Warm and sincere, Kore-eda replaces action with a rich sense of place in a nine-part series that, like all good food, fills you up.

There are no spoilers in this review of the Netflix series The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Season 1.

Imagine, if you will, curling up over a hot meal, perhaps on a winter’s night when it’s dark and cold outside. The food is up to you – choose something you love, something nostalgic, something that brings back fond memories with every fork. Well, if you can, imagine distilling that experience into a television series. In many ways, you only imagined it Netflix‘s The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House.

The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Season 1 Review and synopsis of the plot

Writer and director in nine episodes Hirokazu Kore-eda (shoplifters) creates a whole slice-of-life drama using simple meals – shop, prepare, eat – as a metaphor for all sorts of things, but mostly to create a cozy atmosphere that gives you a heartfelt connection to the characters who indulge in the dishes. Each title lingers on a close-up of a meal featured in the following episode, setting the tone and, to be honest, most of the content for the episode to come.

That’s the thing, see – this isn’t really a show about its plot, although there is an overarching story about two 16-year-old best friends, Kiyo (Nana Mori) and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi), but about the everyday ambience of the house in which the girls are trained to become maiko, geisha apprentices. It’s an intimate, crowded setting, and while little happens in it in a dramatic sense, it’s rich in detail and character if you look for it. Whether that’s enough for some viewers depends, of course, but “Your Mileage May Vary” probably falls short of the amount of richness Kore-eda was able to infuse here.

The title comes from the clumsy Kiyo, who was nearly expelled from the program until she shows enough culinary ambition to become the household’s traditional cook, or makanai, which sets her apart somewhat from the other girls – especially Sumire, who is becoming a Traditional Rolle helps to be part of the seasonal arc – and their dishes reflect what they are feeling and experiencing. Kiyo fits the role so well that it’s easy to imagine having her around in your everyday life, and her relationship with all the girls – but again, especially Sumire – is the main source of the show’s warmth.

and The Makanai is much more about this almost fantastically healthy friendship than the manifestation of a longstanding tradition in modern Japan. The writing wisely assumes that you’re reasonably familiar with this world through cultural osmosis, and if you’re not, you can figure things out for yourself. This freedom of representation and conspiracy allows us to settle in much better, and the organic way we experience who these people are — like the unforgiving Ryoko (Ayu Makita), the daughter of the mother of the house, Azusa (Takako Tokiwa) – is refreshing in a streaming landscape that’s all about reinterpreting the same genre brackets.

The only downside to this approach is that the show can feel awkward at times to cloistered, and at times one wishes it gave more thought to how a traditional art form fits into a contemporary context. There are hints in this direction, but nothing concrete, and I can’t help but feel that a more succinct comment needs to be made here that falls by the wayside.

is The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Well?

Ultimately, however, there is a sheer sense of warmth in this show that inevitably draws you in and comforts you. It’s very well done and deeply comforting in its depictions of love, friendship, tradition and the power of a good, hearty meal – and anything that affirms my own love of food is fine with me.

What do you think of The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Season 1? Comment below.

You can watch this series with a Netflix subscription.

Additional reading: The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House Review

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