‘Makanai’: new Netflix series reveals geisha like you’ve never seen them before

Adaptation of the successful manga by Aiko Koyama (Maiko house, ed. November 2016), Makanai: In the Maiko kitchen two apprentices follow the demanding training of a geisha ( maiko title). Less talented than her childhood friend Sumire, Kiyo will find a way to stay in the geisha house where they are accepted by becoming the place’s makanai (cook) – an activity that, on the contrary, has a real gift.

The Life and Making of a Geisha: The Surprises of Makanai (Netflix)

Debunking myths

Set in the modern, gorgeous city of Kyoto, this series shatters all the myths and fantasies we still sometimes hold about geisha (or rather, geiko as we say in Kyoto). Although this is fiction, and we appreciate it, Hirokazu Kore-eda follows ancient practices bordering on ritual—like many traditional professions in Japan—it still does a serious job of accurately portraying a very hidden universe.

As in reality, the two novice teenagers are about fifteen years old. Their desire to become a geisha may seem strange to a Westerner. But in Japan, this regulated profession still has an exceptional reputation. Some geisha are real stars. The series breaks down a major misunderstanding that still exists among some Westerners today: that geisha, say, are not fancy prostitutes, but very high-level artists who master traditional arts.

Sumire and Kiyo: maiko and makanai share a moment of greed. ©suenaga makoto


Hirokazu Kore-eda rises to the same level of demand with his neat series. This glittering dive into the sophistication of the archipelago’s traditional culture is meticulous down to the tiniest details of geisha makeup (for example: a maiko’s upper lip is never covered in lipstick).

makanai opens a veil beyond the reach of mere mortals. The geisha’s house is a joyous riot, alive with lively and frivolous chatter as people come and go. Kiyo’s food becomes a pretext, an epicenter for another Japanese passion: gastronomy and the art of quickly placing comfort food (another myth busted when necessary: ​​no, Japanese cuisine is not limited to sushi and rice…).

A serious painting of the geisha world. ©Netflix

A final feature that won’t surprise fans of Kore-eda movies: despite the highly demanding and competitive context, this series has neither competition nor an antagonist (or “bad guy”). Sticking to the recurring theme of family, the director portrays a sorority, a house of women united by their passions above all else. The art and strength of the director (and of Aiko Koyama, who is at the origin of this delicate story) is to sustain our interest beyond any conflicting dramatic stakes.

To read: “Family is not necessarily through blood ties” – Interview with Hirokazu Kore-eda

Makanai: In the Maiko kitchen an example of kindness, gentleness and elegance, a still journey into the heart of one of Japan’s oldest and least known traditions.

Makanai: In the Maiko kitchen By Hirokazu Kore-eda From Maiko House By Aiko Koyama. With Nana Mori, Deguchi Natsuki, Aju Makita, Mayu Matsuoka… 9 episodes of 40-45 minutes. netflix From January 12.

Arts Libre cinema stars
star Arts Libre cinema ©LLB


Hirokazu appeared with Kore-eda afterlife in 1998, before being selected for official competition at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival Distance. He became a regular on the Croisette. In 2004 Nobody Knows was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for the young Yūya Yagira (and star of the series), who was twelve years old at the time of filming. Cannibal on Disney+). Hirokazu Kore-eda won the Palme d’Or in 2018 A family matter. Korean actor Song Kang-ho (A parasite) won the best actor award last May brokeralso presented in competition at Cannes.


Makanai: In the Maiko kitchen will spit out food. In almost every episode, Kiyo is busy preparing food. An attentive viewer will be able to guess the composition and recipe to try to reproduce the dish at home. This culinary component is present in several series available on Netflix: Midnight Dinner: Tokyo Stories (from the manga Midnight Canteen), Samurai construction (also adapted from the manga) or a documentary series The origin of flavors.

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