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Originally published Friday, May 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Maiko Haaaan!!!" goes even beyond "over the top"

"Maiko Haaaan!!! " is about as manically energetic as a slapstick comedy can be. Its hyperactive plot revolves around a goofy, plaid-suited...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 2.5 stars

"Maiko Haaaan!!!," with Sadao Abe, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kou Shibasaki, Saori Koide. Directed by Nobuo Mizuta, from a screenplay by Kankuro Kudo. 120 minutes. Not rated; contains mild language. In Japanese with English subtitles. Grand Illusion.

"Maiko Haaaan!!!" is about as manically energetic as a slapstick comedy can be. Its hyperactive plot revolves around a goofy, plaid-suited otaku (the Japanese equivalent of "geek" or "nerd"), baseball, geisha-in-training, ramen noodles, Internet fan sites, corporate culture and the clash of tradition with modernity. The only thing missing is an anime sequence, but the whole thing's a big cartoon anyway.

For lowly noodle-company employee Kimihiko Onizuka (played crazily over-the-top by popular Japanese TV comedian Sadao Abe), the cloistered world of maiko (apprentice geisha girls) is strictly off-limits, with "first-timers" admitted only through formal introduction. Obsessed with geisha since his teens (when he got lost during a field trip to Kyoto, where helpful geisha came to his aid), "Kimi" now runs a geisha-fan Web site, through which he is constantly ridiculed by Kiichiro Naito (Shinichi Tsutsumi), a millionaire baseball star who enjoys all the geisha-house privileges that Kimi desperately desires.

Plotting to gain entry into the hidden world of maiko, Kimi dumps his girlfriend Fujiko (Kou Shibasaki), curries favor with his well-connected boss and engages Naito in a rivalry that extends to baseball, movie stardom, politics and the invention of a variety of noodle toppings so popular that Kimi soon finds himself in close proximity to Komako (Saori Koide). She was one of the geisha he became obsessed with as a dweeby teen.

Sex is a nonissue here (it's mostly forbidden in Kyoto's upscale geisha houses), but competition for love, prestige and male domination gives director Nobuo Mizuta plenty of comedic chaos to exploit, and he does it with colorful flair. With breakneck pacing, brief but imaginative digital effects and even a musical number with a chorus line of high-kicking geisha, "Maiko Haaaan!!!" (the title roughly translates to "Miss Maiko!!!") is unabashedly silly and constantly amusing.

That is, it's more amusing than slap-your-knees funny, especially when Abe ("Kamikaze Girls") begins to wear out his welcome. There's good over-the-top and bad over-the-top, and Abe shifts from one to the other with reckless abandon.

The movie's neglected love story gets a boost when Fujiko arrives in Kyoto to begin maiko training, but when the plot loses steam and Abe doesn't, the comedy begins to feel as desperate as Kimi's childish fixation.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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