'Lady Maiko,' or how to say 'the rain in Spain' in Japanese

Tue Jul 7, 2015 3:47pm EDT
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By Atsuko Kitayama

TORONTO (Reuters) - Masayuki Suo, best known for his original Japanese version of the Hollywood hit "Shall We Dance?," has directed a new movie musical that might best be described as "My Fair Lady" in a kimono.

Suo's "Lady Maiko" tells the story of a simple country girl, Haruko, who travels to Japan's ancient capital Kyoto with the ambition of becoming a polished "maiko," or apprentice geisha, one of the most familiar yet mysterious figures in Japanese culture.

"I wanted to portray how young Japanese girls feel and live with the traditions of Japan," Suo said at the film's North American premiere during the recent Toronto Japanese Film Festival.

"Lady Maiko" will be shown again next month at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto.

Haruko is unusual for a modern Japanese teenager. She dreams of learning the age-old but declining traditions of the maiko. But she soon finds out that her rustic speech stands in the way of her dream. To be an apprentice geisha, or "geiko," as they are called in Kyoto, she must speak the city's special dialect.

It is the same challenge faced by Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl in "My Fair Lady."

Haruko gets a lucky break when she catches the ear of a linguistics professor Kyono, who bets he can teach her to speak like a proper Kyoto lady in six months.

Suo said he hoped to capture the charm of the ancient capital along with its famous geiko and maiko traditions.   Continued...

Japanese film director Masayuki Suo speaks next to Ryo Kase, lead actor of his latest movie "I Just Didn't Do It", during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo February 1, 2007.   REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao