Looking for a cozy watch about cooking and female friendships?
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House is adapted from the manga entitled Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House and revolves mainly around two characters. Kiyo and Sumire (played by Nana Mori and Natsuki Deguchi, respectively) are childhood friends who set out to Kyoto, with the shared dream of becoming maiko, or apprentice geisha. To be a geisha means to commit yourself to a strict and traditional art form, where there is little room for error, even for beginners. While Sumire proves herself to be a diligent and promising apprentice, Kiyo struggles to keep up with the other maiko. And though Kiyo is relieved of her apprenticeship, she is invited to stay in the house as a makanai or live-in cook. One dream didn’t work out, but Kiyo gets another chance to cultivate a different passion: food.
That is the main narrative foundation upon which The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House tells its story of food, female friendships and getting better at what you do everyday. And like any slice-of-life story worth its weight in umeboshi, Makanai’s characters, conflicts and key moments have a lot of heart. It’s established very early that Kiyo and Sumire care very deeply about each other, and that care extends outward to the rest of the house. You can’t help but feel warm and fuzzy when you sit down for this kind of TV.
As a viewer, you’re already clued into the show’s tone and feel through its title sequence—a lush montage of cooking clips that let you know this show is all about comfort. Whenever cooking comes up in the show, it is a testament to the bonds a good meal can foster. In one scene, Kiyo makes caramel pudding from thick white bread for one of the maiko, which leads to the maiko sharing a secret with her and thereby strengthens their friendship. This narrative advancement is quiet, gentle and understated, yet carries so much weight.
That said, food clips that are shot for the sake of pure beauty are abundant in this show. Mushrooms and slices of lotus root, coated in tempura batter then deep-fried. Thick pancakes and latte art. Onigiri expertly wrapped in nori. Viewers who enjoy shows like Iron Chef or Shokugeki no Soma will find themselves sated by how well The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House does culinary cinematography. But unlike those aforementioned shows, nothing in Makanai is explosive. Makanai knows that, like blooming spices in a pan to release their flavor, one must draw the profound from the mundane.
There is something inherently entertaining and enriching about watching a person devote themselves to their calling with skill and passion. Some of my favorite scenes in The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House are Kiyo walking around, doing groceries and chatting with shopkeepers and merchants as she buys ingredients for the house’s food supply. Not all stories require a grand conflict to move forward—Makanai relishes simple moments, and asks you to do the same.
The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House’s showrunner is Palme D’Or winner Hirokazu Kore-eda, who is responsible for films such as Still Walking and After the Storm. The show’s exquisite score, composed by Yoko Kanno, gives the setting a homey, pleasant feel—I always perk up whenever I hear the Minarai theme, which reminds me of Joe Hisaishi’s work with Studio Ghibli. The entire show, which clocks in at a tight nine episodes, is inspired, and brimming with joy, but I urge you not to binge it. This isn’t binge TV. Savor every bite.
Catch “The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House” on Netflix.
Words Jam Pascual
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver