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The Secret Life of Geisha

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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(Nov 29, 2005)
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Editorial Reviews

For hundreds of years, geishas have been a fixture of Japanese society, but at the dawn of a new millennium, their numbers are dwindling fast. "The Secret Life of Geisha" peels back the rice-paper curtain for an intimate look at the culture, history, training and private lives of these alluring figures. Photographs and diaries document some of the love affairs that have become legend and scholars examine the role of the geisha in Japanese society over the centuries.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Susan Sarandon
  • Writers: Clive Maltby
  • Producers: Anthony Geffen, Clive Maltby
  • Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: A&E Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: November 29, 2005
  • Run Time: 100 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BB150C
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,292 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Secret Life of Geisha" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
"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.
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Format: DVD
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".
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
I more or less made it through this documentary, finally getting past the annoying first 15 minutes with its repeated tease about how secret and exclusive the geisha life is, yet the life of the geisha eludes this film and the veil of secrecy is not lifted.

Liza Dalby provides spirited commentary with a soulful appreciation of the geisha life, and Arthur Golden (whose book "Memoirs of a Geisha" actually gives a much more accessible look at the hidden world) also discusses context and background. But not being able to understand any of the untranslated Japanese banter between geisha and customer makes us have to take on faith that they're charming conversationalists.

It's a good historical overview and the kimono are beautiful, but, again, there's little technical discussion even of the wardrobe, and one gets the sense that the subjects agreed to be filmed but also privately decided not to let the viewer pass through the mystique into real understanding.
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