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Lady Maiko (2014)
What does it take to be a lady?
Director: Masayuki Suō

Country bumpkin Haruko only ever wanted to become a maiko, an apprentice geisha. Initially rebuffed for lack of references, Haruko's strong accent intrigues a linguistics professor, who undertakes to coach her.

Lady Maiko (2014)


The story itself is about adapting from a not ideal Japanese state to the purest state, a Geisha. In Japan, the rural north is considered to consist of country bumpkins, something like in the US we associate with the South. A Geisha’s training includes many arts but primarily speaking, and doing so in the pure, accent-free native Kyoto dialect.

A girl raised by her grandparents speaks the northern dialect and is otherwise ungraceful. She wants to enter training in a Kyoto teahouse as a Maiko, an apprentice Geisha. (She later learns she is the daughter of a favoured Geisha.)

While the story is about merging the natural talent, grace and beauty of this girl into the perfect Japanese ideal, the form of the story is anything but. Excepting perhaps Denmark, Japan has distinct cinematic traditions and when a film deviates from these or borrows from elsewhere it is remarkable. ‘Tampopo’ was intriguing because of how it adopted French adaptations of US gangster films.

This tries a similar but more radical experiment. I cannot say how it plays in Japan, but boy it sure did not work for me.

The story is roughly “My Fair Lady” both in form — it is a musical — and in the way this girl is sponsored and trained by a linguistic professor for his own ends. The musical form, however, is not from the Broadway tradition but from Bollywood, including an end dance sequence with all the players dancing in concert together with standard Bollywood sequined costumes and many characters from diverse films, like Snow White.

It its a bold experiment. I saw it on an transcontinental Delta flight, often a dumping ground for failed but quirky international films. I’d be really interested in how was received natively, but from here all the seams are unsewn.

Posted in 2015

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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