Makanai’s Twin Appetites

Best friends Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi) and Kiyo (Nana Mori) couldn’t have become the best versions of themselves without the hunger, personal and professional, that brought them together.
Photo: Netflix

Spoilers follow for The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House.

Each of the opening credits sequences The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko HouseThe nine episodes end with an invitation to enjoy. A bowl of chicken, noodles, and silky egg sauce promises warmth and comfort at “Guardian Spirit.” An individual-sized bread pudding with a drizzle of caramel sauce at “Taboo” offers extravagance. Sliced ​​eggplant, deeply sliced ​​and stewed in a rich broth, evoke memories of childhood, protection, and home on “Wish.” Hirokazu Kore-eda’s new live-action adaptation of the popular manga series Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House (which also received an anime adaptation in 2021) is set in the female-only Saku House, which houses trainees maiko while training to be geiko (geishas), and the house makanai, or cook, prepares meals so students can focus on their craft. Diners often use the word “nostalgia” to describe the meals served at the makanai, and the dishes that rotate throughout the first few minutes of the series – humble, steaming and freshly prepared – suggest a show that deals only with cozy food.

But that “Studio Ghibli-esque country house” aesthetic, with its close-ups of chopped vegetables and boiling pots, subplots about holiday celebrations and a trip across town to find the best dashi ingredients, and long shots of the preparations . geiko traditional interpretation, loaded with meaning May dances—belies a strikingly feminist portrayal of fulfillment through ambition rather than romance. Over the course of the season, which is now streaming in its entirety on Netflix, the maiko, geiko, and other women affiliated with Saku House get caught up in school crushes, simmering flirtations, stolen glances, and admissions of unrequited love. Yet the makanai he always returns to the suggestion that a woman pursues her own goals and intentions rather than a man’s, and she does so with gentle persistence.

Amid bowls of udon soup, plates of fried tempura, and mounds of deep-fried, sugar-coated bread crusts, generations of women at Saku House reveal their stories and plans, but never regret: A teenage girl defies her father’s wish. to become a doctor, and instead leaves home to study as a maiko; one of the mothers of the Saku House is reunited with a love from a long time ago, but she does not regret that they never got together or formed a family; an established geiko he rejects a marriage proposal from a man he loves very much because he assumed he would quit his job. “Doesn’t food taste better when you share it?” the protagonist Kiyo (Nana Mori) asks one of her housemates, and the appetites sated in the makanai they are both material and metaphysical.

The series follows 16-year-old teenage best friends Kiyo and Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi), who move together from their snowy pastoral home in Aomori to the cultural capital Kyoto. On a school field trip, the couple fell in love with the peaceful atmosphere of the geiko district and promised that instead of going to high school, they would move to Kyoto to study as makai. From the first scene, the makanai links their devotion to each other and future plans to their shared memories of food: as Kiyo’s grandmother (Kayoko Shiraishi) serves them nabekko Dumplings in red bean soup, the young women do not chat around the table, but simply mirror each other’s expressions of delight at each bite of this good-luck meal. Later, on the train to Kyoto, as Kiyo shares with Sumire the baked sweet potato that her close friend Kenta (Kairi Jyo) gave them as a snack for the trip, the girls fall into the same grateful giggles and appreciative silence. Showrunner Kore-eda’s previous film work has recurrently focused on biological and found families (still walking, our little sisterY After the storm; thieves Y Runner) Y the makanai cross that same line. All the characters introduced in Aomori call Kiyo’s grandmother “grandmother”, as if her role is collective rather than individual; at Saku House, Sumire and Kiyo are instructed to call the older apprentice maiko and professional geiko “sister” and their “mother” house keepers, fostering an immediate sense of camaraderie. From Kiyo’s family home to her and Sumire’s new one, the lines of authority are matriarchal.

Photo: Suenaga Makoto/Netflix

When Mother Chiyo (Keiko Matsuzaka) and Mother Azusa (Takako Tokiwa) welcome Sumire and Kiyo to the Saku House, they remind the young women of the cultural practices they will have to perfect and carry out during their training: respect for elders, repetitive deference and effusive thanks, precise and formal language and etiquette. Once they graduate from geikothose manners will be an essential part of their work at private parties, celebrations and other special events in which they will perform. May and entertain guests. However, it becomes clear rather quickly in the premiere episode “Change” that Kiyo isn’t going to be enough, as her attention is devoted less to her music and dance lessons than to what she does around the house. makanai will cook for each meal. It is karaageor fried chicken? Somen either yakisoba noodles? Mori’s line deliveries are so innocent and enthusiastic that she helps keep the makanaiKiyo’s upbeat tone, even in situations where Kiyo’s exuberance might seem out of place: in the middle of a meeting with her. May instructor about how she will likely be kicked out of her apprenticeship for not reaching the level of the other students, particularly the exemplary Sumire, Kiyo urges his teacher to eat his udon before it gets soggy. When the Saku House makanai arrives for his turn, Mori’s anxious glance at the older woman’s grocery bag aligns us and legitimizes Kiyo’s perspective, isn’t it “What are we having for lunch?” a valid question for one’s happiness?

the makanaiThe validation of Kiyo’s culinary passion means that when she is kicked off the show, it’s not an occasion for embarrassment or humiliation. The promise she made to Sumire to do her best at Saku House still stands, but now, Kiyo can flourish on her own terms. The change of her maiko a makanai it is a realignment, not a failure—its implicit interests made explicit—and the makanai he continues to find that balance for other characters in a way that challenges expected notions of what would make them happy. Each of Kiyo’s recipes allows another member of Saku House to become sharper and more defined. In “Taboo”, returning geiko Yoshino (Mayu Matsuoka), who left her husband behind to return to Saku House and work again, sneakily eats one of Kiyo’s pickles. umeboshi fruits, an indication of his mischief and tendency to self-preservation. In “Wish,” Kiyo’s abilities add inwardness to the mother figures in the house: her Kamo eggplant preparation freezes Mother Chiyo as she recalls the same taste from her childhood, and her latte with a four-leaf clover design. leaves in the foam delights Mother Azusa, who demonstrates her own fondness for Kiyo when she asks her former disciple if he is happy in his new makanai position. This fluid dialogue, a fluid exchange of memories, motivations, and aspirations, often takes place at the kitchen table, the place Kiyo has created as a place of uninhibited honesty and desire.

Kiyo’s certainty serves as an inspiration for other members of House Saku to decide what they want for themselves: for Azusa’s daughter, Ryoko (Aju Makita), who intends to study abroad after graduating from school. high school so she can find her own path and as close a friendship as possible. Kiyo and Sumire, and for maiko Tsurukoma (Momoko Fukuchi), who decides to leave the Saku House and the geiko world because she doesn’t love the show as much as Kiyo takes care of the kitchen or fellow trainee Sumire takes care of the May. Just as Kiyo was supported in his new endeavor, so are Ryoko and Tsurukoma, with the former being reassured by Saku House regulars that one day he will form such a meaningful bond with someone that they can “communicate without words,” as Kiyo and Sumire make it through their memory-loaded meals, and the latter gets a good luck sendoff from nabekko dumplings cooked by Kiyo and the other Saku House trainees. He nabekko they are a deliberate return to the ones Kiyo’s grandmother prepared for her and Sumire before moving to Kyoto, and a sign of Kiyo’s empowerment: his confidence in his ability manifests as satisfaction and celebration of others.

the makanai makes Kiyo’s enthusiasm for her work not an anomaly, but a natural extension of an environment where women are encouraged to put effort and creativity into their artistic pursuits. Saku House Star Graduate, Japan’s Best geiko Momoko (Ai Hashimoto), kicks against the rule that geiko She can’t continue acting after she’s married, but she shares with her assistant Sumire that she realized that “true love isn’t just a romantic feeling. You can fall in love with your art, not just with a man.” When Momoko finally meets Kiyo, whom she calls her “rival” for Sumire’s loyalty, she recognizes in Kiyo’s brainstorming of recipes the same kind of strength that drives her own. May: “You seem to be having a lot of fun.” Any competition they may have been in for Sumire’s attention fades once Kiyo and Momoko find common ground in their enthusiasm for the process and their devotion to her tools (the frying pan Kiyo gave him from her grandmother). , the kanzashi hair ornament that Momoko lends to Sumire).

These steps toward convergence take place during meals, of course (bowls of white stew and miso pork soup) and on the night of Sumire’s debut in the “Passage” ending, when others are surprised to hear Sumire, decked out with his geiko Elegant and ready to walk past a throng of photographers, to ask Kiyo what he will do with the leftover crusts from dinner, Momoko’s fond smile at her former assistant’s curiosity is laced with tender understanding. “Each of us has our own choice. We can cook or be the ones to eat it,” Grandma tells Kenta in “Passage,” but the makanai does not favor one role over the other. Sumire and Kiyo couldn’t have become the best versions of themselves without the hunger, personal and professional, that brought them together, and the makanai closes the circle with an ending that ensures both are fed.

The nine episodes of The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House they are now streaming on Netflix.

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