Maiko Haaaan!!! (VIZ Pictures, NR)

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maiko-header.jpgThis film mocks exaggeration by over-indulging in it, resulting in a send-up not only of one otaku (obsessive fan) but of the clichés used to represent modern Japan in films as well.



Maiko Haaaan!!! is a Japanese live-action comedy about geeky salaryman Kimihiko Onizuka's (Sadao Abe) obsession with geishas. His dull life working for the Suzuya Ramen Company takes a turn for the better when he is transferred to Kyoto, center of geisha culture. But to get inside a geisha ochaya (tea house), he needs an introduction, which his boss (Shiro Ito) offers to provide if Onizuka can figure out a way to make the company lots of money. This drives him to overhaul the company's product line, to resounding success. Once inside the ochaya, Onizuka has to compete with a professional baseball player (Shinichi Tsutsumi) for the affections of his chosen geisha. And in the meantime, his old girlfriend (Kou Shibasaki) enters apprentice geisha training to try to win him back.

The cover to the DVD release of Maiko Haaaan!!!The over-the-top world of Maiko Haaaan!!! is established from the opening scene, so when characters burst into song, or a giant noodle bowl is lowered onto a baseball field, it makes perfect sense. This film mocks exaggeration by over-indulging in it, resulting in a send-up not only of one otaku (obsessive fan) but of the clichés used to represent modern Japan in films as well. Establishing shot of Mt Fuji? Check. Scene in a bath house? Check. Lots of cute electronic gadgets? Check. Baseball?  Check  Rigid hierarchies and elaborate social rituals? Check. Bullet trains? Check. Bowing with your head on the floor? Check.

Maiko Haaaan!!! is a veritable catalogue of references to Japanese culture, many of which are also mainstays in manga and anime. Do you know how to distinguish a maiko from a geisha? You will after watching Maiko Haaaan!!! And you'll be up on the significance of instant noodles (why can't we get all those varieties in America?), the rules for visiting an ochaya, and much more as well.

The humor is broad. Very broad. Broader than You Don't Mess with the Zohan. Onizuka's hyperactive silliness started to wear on me, but director Nobuo Mizuta keeps the story moving, and there's a serious undertone to Maiko Haaaan!!! which makes it more than a slapstick comedy. The songs and production numbers are imaginative and witty and the background music frequently adds a wry counterpoint to the action. The film's bright visual style, with saturated colors and CGI animations, also help make Maiko Haaaan!!! an enjoyable experience, particularly for those with an interest in Japanese culture.

Extras included on the DVD include a "making of" documentary and the Japanese trailers for this film and for Death Note (another VIZ release). | Sarah Boslaugh


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