Review: ‘Maiko Haaaan!!!’

Geisha and male competitiveness are put under a comedic microscope to edifying, amusing but diminishing effect in contempo Nipponese comedy "Maiko Haaaan!!!" Underlining the fact most Japanese are as shut out of the geisha world as the Western auds who flocked to "Memoirs of a Geisha," pic takes a lighthearted look at the indigenous male's obsession with the national icon.

Geisha and male competitiveness are put under a comedic microscope to edifying, amusing but diminishing effect in contempo Nipponese comedy “Maiko Haaaan!!!” Underlining the fact most Japanese are as shut out of the geisha world as the Western auds who flocked to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” pic takes a lighthearted look at the indigenous male’s obsession with the national icon. High production values aid digestion of this confection, and the popularity of TV comedian Sadawo Abe should garner satisfying local B.O. Further afield, pic will be confined to Asia-themed fests.

Ever since getting lost on a Kyoto school excursion, when a series of geishas took pity on him, garishly suited dweeb — and noodle company employee — Kimihiko Onizuka (Abe) has been obsessed with Japan’s cloistered courtesans. Sporting a bowl-shaped haircut and running his own geisha blog, Kimihiko draws the attention of swaggering insider Kiichiro Naito (Shinichi Tsutsumi), who mercilessly flamesthe nerd’s Web site.

His honor at stake, Kimihiko transfers to the Kyoto noodle office located in the geisha heartland and tries to infiltrate their world. Script cleverly and entertainingly lays out the rules of conduct and engagement with geishadom, including a big, Vegas-like musical number illustrating that only those who are formally introduced are allowed access to the rarefied world. Though he’s awed by the geisha’s beauty, Kimihiko’s goal is not sex (which, according to house rules, is rarely on offer anyway). Rather, he’s interested in participating in strip baseball, one of many drinking games geishas allegedly play with their clients.

Distaff point of view is explored when Kimihiko’s ex-g.f. Fujiko (Kou Shibasaki) trains as a maiko (apprentice geisha) in order to regain her geeky b.f.’s affections. For all their glamour and erudite entertainment value, women, including rising geisha star Komako (Saori Koide), are revealed to have much more tragic lives than the men obsessed by them.

Yarn is eventually overwhelmed by the childishly trivial competitiveness between Naito and Kimihiko, which escalates to include other ventures like movies, baseball and ultimately politics. Unfortunately, as the stakes get higher, humor dissipates.

Nobuo Mizuta’s direction is inventive and keeps the pic moving, particularly in the dynamic early sequences, but the helmer is helpless when the story bogs down.

Thesps are fine, but by film’s end, Abe’s childishness wears as thin as a salaryman’s combover. Production values are topnotch, and the brassy big-band soundtrack by Taro Iwashiro makes a substantial contribution to keeping the pic buoyant.

Original title translates as an extended and affectionate cry of “Miss Maiko!!!”

Maiko Haaaan!!!

Japan

Production

A Nippon Television Network Corp. presentation of a Bewild, Toho Co., Maiko Haaaan!!! Film Partners production. (International sales: Nippon Television Network Corp., Tokyo.) Produced by Nobuyuki Iinuma, Rikei Kubo. Executive producer, Seiji Okuda. Directed by Nibou Mizuta. Screenplay, Kankuro Kudo.

Crew

Camera (color), Osamu Fujiishi; editor, Shogo Hirasawa; music, Taro Iwashiro; art director, Tsuyoshi Shimizu; sound (Dolby Digital), Hitoshi Tsurumaki. Reviewed on DVD, June 16, 2007. Running time: 120 MIN.

With

Sadawo Abe, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kou Shibasaki, Saori Koide.
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