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The Secret Life of Geisha (1999)

Susan Sarandon  |  NR |  DVD
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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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.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • 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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000BB150C
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #256,142 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Secret Life of Geisha" on IMDb

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

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. Now, enter a realm once known only to the rich and powerful. Go beyond the popular Western misconception of the Geisha as little more than a high-priced call-girl. And discover the 400-year history of a profession where women devoted decades to the mastery of music, conversation, and the fine art of massaging the male ego. Witness the darker side of the Geisha, from tales of sexual treachery and suicide to their role in the fall of a hierarchy of political leaders as recently as 1989. From legendary Geisha of the past, to young women devoted to the profession in modern Japan, THE SECRET LIFE OF GEISHA offers an unprecedented glimpse into this ancient, enigmatic phenomenon. DVD Features: Glossary; Geisha Points of Distinction; Interactive Menus; Scene Selection

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A biased but interesting documentary August 8, 2006
"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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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly informative documentary January 6, 2006
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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Overall worth watching, but no need to buy. March 14, 2007
By C. Law
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK for a peek June 5, 2007
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good Visual Study on the subject
I am very much pleased with all the information with much study and interview
that has been brought here in this DVD to explain about Geisha of Japan. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Nara
4.0 out of 5 stars Warning, caveat
This is NOT the 50 minute 2002 documentary of Gion hanamachi in Kyoto Japan by the Discovery Channel [ASIN:B000TXOV08 The Secret World of Geishas Discovery Channel]. Read more
Published on April 29, 2011 by Sakuteiki
4.0 out of 5 stars Good documentary
First of all, I don't see how that a geisha would be very entertaining. Maybe, as a crass American, I just don't understand. Read more
Published on June 1, 2010 by Roger Long
5.0 out of 5 stars A surprise in that it is EXCELLENT! --
I was somewhat skeptical ordering this, as I've another A&E DVD which is mediocre. This one actually blew me away with its thoroughness and detail, beginning with the origins of... Read more
Published on April 30, 2009 by JNagarya
Wonderfully informative ! Colorful and exciting lives of girls whos only goal is to please gentlemen of wealth and culture. Read more
Published on February 26, 2007 by Robert M. Bonnett
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating History about Geisha
I bought this DVD after reading Memoirs of a Geisha for our book club. This was a fascinating DVD and a great accompaniment to the book, because it describes and shows real Geisha. Read more
Published on January 26, 2007 by Sunny Skies
4.0 out of 5 stars Great companion piece to "Memoirs of a Geisha"
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. Read more
Published on November 30, 2005 by Geisha Fan
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