If The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House were a person, it would be kind, caring, and gentle. It would have uplifted you as well as made you confront your insecurities and fears. The Makanai is like that friend who is there with you during your lowest phase and encourages you to give your best. When it leaves, you sorely miss its presence.
It's fitting, then, that the show is painted with a yellow nostalgic filter. It reminded me of my childhood when complicated things looked simpler. On the surface, The Makanai seems to exist in a calm and comfortable bubble. Characters are often seen in a jolly mood, doing their chores without making a fuss. Kiyo (Nana Mori) is just a young teenager, yet she doesn't get tired of her chores involving cooking food for everyone in Saku House. Her best friend, Sumire (Natsuki Deguchi), also doesn't mind exerting herself to become the top Maiko of the town. If the two girls have complaints or regrets, we are not told about them. Kiyo and Sumire only bring to the foreground their passion. They love their jobs.
This sunny disposition is established in the opening scenes, where sounds of laughter are heard in abundance. When Kiyo and Sumire leave their home to travel to Kyoto, we don't see them in tears. Even when the bus begins to move, they wave their hands and say their goodbyes with a smile on their faces. The sadness can be found in the visage of a boy, but it's the kind of sadness that doesn't break the cheerful exterior. It appears with a slight pinch here and there to prevent The Makanai from becoming too cutesy.
There is talk of the pain brought by one-sided love, and we notice a girl longing for a father figure. A girl becomes homesick, and a woman is torn between art and romance (she doesn't like the fact that married women are not allowed to be Maiko). The Makanai does not shy away from tribulations but wraps - or rather overcomes hurdles - with plenty of warmth and goodness. Every frame of The Makanai oozes tenderness and has a melancholic flavor. While watching the show, you are aware of time slipping by your grasp, and that fills you with woe.
The world of The Makanai is always in motion. Almost in any frame with multiple characters, each of them is seen talking about different subjects and indulging in different actions. For instance, one group in the foreground might be gossiping about someone. Those in the middle might be eating food and talking about something else. And the character in the background might be cooking for everyone. You also get such moments where the series will show us two characters talking on a terrace and then briefly cut to two characters drinking coffee in a restaurant. It seems as if The Makanai is keeping tabs on everyone because it likes to observe its characters. Perhaps, that's why it lingers a bit longer on a scene before moving on to the next one.
At times, The Makanai gets close to falling into dull clichés by employing ingredients like a wise bartender and a romantic track where a man feels shy and hesitant about confessing his love to a woman. It also has one of those scenes where a problem is solved by "accident." You know, one of those scenes where the character stumbles across the solution. For instance, in Khakee: The Bihar Chapter, a hide-and-seek game gave Amit Lodha a plan to grab Chandan Mahto. Similarly, in The Makanai, a needle solves an issue related to a costume event. But as soon as you display signs of becoming a cynic, the series wins you over with its sweetness. That sweetness can be found in a WHO/UNICEF discussion or how Night of the Living Dead is brought up. It's also present in Kiyo's voice when she says the show's title.
Kiyo and Sumire wanted to become Maiko together, but only the latter proved to be capable. The signs can be noticed in the scene where the two girls initially meet the Mothers (Kiyo struggles to formally greet them, while Sumire is praised for her words). However, Kiyo turns out to be an excellent Makanai and wins everybody's hearts through her cooking skills. The cooking scenes are shot beautifully, and one can practically taste the dishes (or at least see the magic in them). In The Makanai, seasons, stances, and ambitions change, but the friendship between Kiyo and Sumire remains strong and constant (Mori and Deguchi are excellent actors). You feel protective towards these best friends and love living in their wonderful world. The Makanai is an extremely charming show and already one of my favorites of the year.
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