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The Secret Life of Geisha
The Secret Life of Geisha
Actor: Susan Sarandon
Genres: Special Interests, Television, Educational, Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
NR     2005     1hr 40min

Exotic, sensuous, exquisitely mysterious. For centuries, the seductive grace of the Japanese Geisha has fascinated and confounded outsiders who attempt to fathom this secretive world of tradition, intrigue, and pleasure. ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Susan Sarandon
Creators: Anthony Geffen, Clive Maltby
Genres: Special Interests, Television, Educational, Documentary, Mystery & Suspense
Sub-Genres: Art & Artists, Television, Educational, Biography, History, Mystery & Suspense
Studio: A&E Home Video
Format: DVD - Black and White,Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 11/29/2005
Original Release Date: 01/01/1999
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1999
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 40min
Screens: Black and White,Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 3
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

A biased but interesting documentary
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 08/08/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

""The Secret Life of Geisha" is not going to surprise or amaze anyone who has done a bit of research on Geisha, say by reading Liza Dalby's book "Geisha" or Mineko Iwasaki's autobiography "Geisha : A Life." However, to those uninitiated who still believe that Geisha are some sort of high-class prostitute, then perhaps a secret or two might be unveiled.

This DVD is a pretty standard A & E presentation, with interesting interviews and stimulating visual images. The approach seems to very much be "How Westerners approach Geisha" rather than "How Japanese approach Geisha," as the majority of people interviewed seem to be Westerners such as Liza Dalby, Arthur Golden and western patrons of Geisha. Granted, Liza Dalby deserves to be interviewed on any such presentation, but it did come off a little bit too much like an add for Golden's "Memoirs of a Geisha," a book of dubious authenticity. Although he was used as a primary source, there was no mention of Mineko Iwasaki's lawsuit against Golden for mis-representing her life story in his book.

The nicest thing about a video such as this, as opposed to a book, is the ability to see the costumes and beauty of Geisha in living color, moving around in kimono and dancing and playing their instruments. Geisha are very visual, and a video brings this out better than a book. Susan Sarandon's narration was a bit distracting, and I would have preferred a Japanese narrator, as well as subtitling of the Geisha rather than over-dubbing.

Also missing from the video is that, in modern Japan, women also attend Geisha parties, with the staff of a school perhaps hiring a Geisha and a few Maiko to entertain both genders during a particularly special occasion. The only time I have been to a Geisha party has been mixed-gendered, and it is not unusual in modern Japan.

Still, with few videos of this sort around, for all it's flaws "The Secret Life of Geisha" is worth watching by anyone who is interested in Geisha. Just don't use it as your primary source of information regarding this fascinating world.
A highly informative documentary
Erica Anderson | Minneapolis, MN | 01/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Ever since I have read Arthur Golden's blockbuster novel "Memoirs of a Geisha", I have been deeply fascinated by geishas and the world they live in. "The Secret Life of Geisha" was an A&E documentary that was produced and aired back in 1999. It finally sees the light of day on dvd.

"The Secret Life of Geisha" explores the rich history and troubled present of geisha culture in Japan. The word geisha means artist, not prostitute, not hooker but artist. Americans unfortunately got the ridiculous notion that geishas are prostitutes during WWII when young Japanese women would sell themselves as geishas during the US occupation of Japan. This 100 minute long documentary is very thorough and explores a good deal of geisha history. I thought it was excellent to see a few geishas come out and speak about their life as geishas. Despite the misconception westerns might have about geishas, this life is not easy. These women of the arts are constasntly training in song and dance. The training never ends. They stay out at night until the wee early hours of the morning. They can only wash their hair once a week (or at least for maikos). I especially loved hearing what Liza Dalby (the only western woman to ever be allowed into this secretive world as a geisha) had to say given her experience as a geisha. Arthur Golden also speaks in the film.

It is rather ironic that "The Secret Life of Geisha" was released on dvd just prior to the release of the film "Memoirs of a Geisha". I definitely recommend seeing this documentary before seeing "Memoirs of a Geisha"."
Overall worth watching, but no need to buy.
C. Law | Los Angeles, CA | 03/14/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)

"A good documentary for its time, featuring Arthur Golden, Liza Dalby, Peter MacIntosh, and others (a selection of geisha and maiko from Gion, Atami, Tokyo, Shimoda, etc.). Susan Sarandon's accent is tolerable for American ears, but you probably won't want to watch it more than twice. Despite the candid presentation, there is a clear sense of a cultural 'gap'. As Golden recounts his questions about mizuage, the infamous de-flowering of a virgin maiko (and pre-WWII practice), he was reminded that Japanese traditionally don't kiss on the lips - a shocking revelation for the Western audience. Similarly the presentation of the Kyoto geisha Oyuki (who would be the unlikely wife of J.P. Morgan's nephew, George) is given somewhat sentimental treatment. Clearly the target audience of this documentary must be old enough to remember that 'people just didn't marry Orientals in those days'.

If you're thinking about getting the DVD over the VHS, it's really not worth it unless you don't have a VCR. The special features are little more than a brief glossary of terms, a side-by-side comparison of maiko-geiko and geiko-oiran descriptions. Perhaps they give American audiences too much credit, since the average Westerner wouldn't know all the differences between a maiko vs. geiko vs. courtesan without images. Also, the DVD cover art is stock photography of a poorly costumed woman. Trust me - you don't want a closer look at the ratty wig, bizarre hair ornaments, and butchered kimono - crossed right over left no less."
Great companion piece to "Memoirs of a Geisha"
Geisha Fan | West Virginia | 12/01/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Made several years ago, this documentary on the life of the modern-day geisha illustrates the struggle these artists face in maintaining relevancy in today's Japan. Aside from Susan Sarandon's competent narration, Arthur Golden, famous for his fictional novel (and soon to be released movie) called "Memoirs of a Geisha", is interviewed extensively, and he gives us a wonderful picture of the history of the geisha. One note of caution, though: Golden appears to be of Western descent, not Japanese, and he is apparently being sued by the woman he presumably used as a model for the novel, although it's apparently a row over his failure to keep her identity private. Overall, though, Golden seems to be quite knowledgeable about the topic. The program also documents the first American woman to be allowed to train as a geisha in Japan. Overall, a good primer for those interested in geisha, unless you're looking for prurient material. Obviously, this is a must-have if you're an Arthur Golden fan."