November 04, 2023

Kiyo in Kyoto

Kiyo in Kyoto is based on the manga by Aiko Koyama, published since 2016 in 24 volumes to date. It also inspired a Netflix live-action adapation.

The manga won "Best Shounen Manga" at the Shogakukan Manga Awards in 2020 (curiously enough, the boy's category). The studio is anime heavyweight J.C. Staff, which does a fine job within the given constraints.

Watching the anime, you will see from the (lack of) inbetweening and the use of rotoscoped backgrounds that this isn't a high-budget production.

Rather like The Way of the Househusband, it uses what I'd call the PowerPoint approach to animation, more a moving manga.

To be sure, The Way of the Househusband was purposely directed as "an animation that looks like a manga." With Kiyo in Kyoto, my guess is that NHK chose to divert their available resources into the adorable character designs and top-notch voice talent.

They certainly are adorable and top-notch (veteran voice actors Kana Hanazawa as Kiyo and M.A.O as Sumire).

The setting is Kyoto, so we're also treated to a delightful sampling of the Kyoto and Aomori dialects (coaches for both are listed in the credits). The genre is one of the most reliable in popular Japanese narrative fiction.

Food. With a fascinating setting, Kyoto's Kagai, or geisha district. In other words, cute girls doing interesting things. Don't expect deep drama or complex story arcs. That's not the point. It's slice-of-life comfort food that succeeds surprisingly well at being both entertaining and educational.

Kiyo is the live-in cook at the Maiko House and her childhood friend Sumire is an aspiring maiko, an apprentice geiko (more commonly known in Tokyo as geisha). The reason sixteen-year-old Kiyo isn't in school is because secondary education in Japan is only compulsory through junior high.

Each thirty-minute episode is split into three segments that follow a similar format, a day-in-the-life about Kiyo and Sumire followed by a discussion of the featured recipe (with Sumire doing the research and Kiyo doing the cooking).

The Makanai (referring to the live-in cook at a boarding house) is Netflix's excellent live-action version, written and directed by Hirokazu Kore'eda. Kore'eda reworks the material with Sumire as the main character and gives her more depth.

Kore'eda made his mark directing slow burn but beautiful art house movies. So no surprise that The Makanai is a slow burn but beautiful live-action series.

While the anime starts in medias res and focuses on the food that Kiyo prepares, basically one recipe per eight minute vignette, The Makanai is story and character driven, beginning at the beginning and taking a full two episodes (ninety minutes) to get to the premise.

Nevertheless, Kore'eda sticks to the spirit of the slice-of-life genre with a light touch and lots of ambience, in the process painting a living portrait of this little corner of Kyoto.

Kore'eda brings Sumire's father and Mother Azusa's daughter into the narrative to create a pair of family dramas. But again, he maintains a low-key approach that results in a sweet story seasoned with occasional touches of melancholy that never turn sad or saccharine.

Another addition to the live-action version is Mayu Matsuoka as Yoshino, the prodigal maiko who returns with loudly proclaimed plans to replace the current Mother of the Maiko House when she retires. As the designated court jester, she makes for a delicious dessert.

All around, two very good (and quite unique) entertainment meals.

Related links

The Makanai
Kiyo in Kyoto
The Way of the Househusband
Cute girls doing interesting things

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# posted by Blogger Joe
10/09/2021 12:12 AM   
Are regional accents across Japan as varied as they are across the UK? Or even just England?
# posted by Blogger Eugene
10/10/2021 12:24 PM   
During the Edo period, the Tokugawa shoguns imposed an authoritarian form of federalism on the provinces. This was to keep discontented governors from banding together and overthrowing the regime (which was exactly what happened in 1868, but they kept it at bay for 250 years).

You needed an internal passport to leave your own province and getting caught without one could get you tossed in jail (though the draw of the big city was often worth the risk). As a result, the outlying provinces developed distinct identities and dialects that have persisted to this day.