Maiko in Kyoto: From the Maiko House is a slice-of-life manga series from mangaka Aiko Koyama that was first serialized in Weekly Shonen Sunday and won the 65th Shogakukan Manga Award, and now, it’s a live-action series from Netflix, Story Inc., and BUN-BUKU. The nine-episode series features Hirokazu Kore-eda as the adaptation’s showrunner, director, and writer. A force behind the camera, Kore-eda won the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or, and his ability to capture humanity, beauty, and intimacy of life shines brightly in The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House.
After graduating from junior high school, 16-year-old Kiyo leaves her home of Aomori and heads to Kyoto with her friend Sumire with dreams of becoming a beautiful maiko (apprentice geisha). However, she is told she is not suited to being one. As a tearful Kiyo is about to return to Aomori, her skill for cooking is discovered and she is hired as a makanai, a cook for a house where maiko live together. During this time, Sumire rapidly grows into a beautiful maiko and becomes famous along the streets of the traditional Gion town. The beautiful, fun, and delicious days of a makanai and a maiko start here.
Set in the geisha district of Kyoto, the protagonist Kiyo becomes a Makanai (person who cooks meals) at a house where Maiko (apprentice geishas) live together. The story depicts the everyday life of Kiyo maiko Sumire, her childhood friend who came with her from Aomori to Kyoto, amid a vibrant world of geisha and maiko courtesans and delicious food.
The Makanai manages to capture the beauty of cultural preservation in modern times and how history impacts the modern day. We see the intricacies of geisha, their beauty and skill, and the amount of work that goes into keeping the tradition alive. But most importantly, we also see the importance that food carries. The way a meal can bind people together, how it holds histories, memories, and connects people across a country. An intimate look at food, cooking, and the art preserved in Kyoto’s geisha district, The Makanai is moving in small ways. While this slice of life moves slowly, across the nine episodes, you get to understand who Kiyo is, what drives her, and how cooking becomes the way she expresses who she is.
While every actor brings tenderness and dedication to their roles, Nana Mori as Kiyo is genuinely fantastic; she’s beautiful, thoughtful, and kind. Looking at the world through her eyes and how she pivots her dream is the softest take on resilience I’ve seen. She’s charming and perfect in the series; she makes it have the heart that it does. This shines through in her interactions with her father and in convincing him that her dreams are worth it.
Ultimately, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is a heartfelt series and an intimate one that captures beauty and life in the Maiko House. It captures the dreams and the connections and does so with gorgeous cinematography that makes it move from real life to dreamlike in moments that build connections to the characters. This is one to watch and enjoy. Filled with friendship, love, and a soft resiliency, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is an easy watch to feed the soul.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
This is one to watch and enjoy. Filled with friendship, love, and a soft resiliency, The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is an easy watch to feed the soul.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime.