The 18th Japanese Film Festival opened on Thursday with Lady Maiko and what a surprise packet it was. Telling the story of My Fair Lady but in a Japanese context, it follows the the journey of Kagoshima bumpkin Haruko, played by first time actor Mone Kamishiraishi who desperately wants to become a Maiko, or apprentice Geiko like her mother. A small cultural note, Geisha in western Japan are called Geiko. She happens upon a teahouse and her rural accent is overheard by a linguistics professor who decides he will help our fair lady in her attempt. Hey presto, movie success ensues.
The surprise packet? Well, I did not realise it was a musical. When the camp but stern Geiko valet bursts into song, I realised I was in a far different movie to what I expected but what the hell, hang on for the ride I said, and I was so glad I did.
While remaining authentic to Geiko culture and played by Japanese actors (I am looking at you Memoirs of a Geisha on both counts), this delightful film had the right blend of feel good charm and deft emotional play that does not bother with digging an artificial emotion pit for our main character to fall in.
This movie knows what it is, the director knew what he was delivering and for a sweet and colourful start to the festival, this was a win.
Note: Look out for one of my favourite actors, Tamiyo Kusakari who some might remember from A Terminal Trust at last years festival.
8 Hairpins out of 10