A biased but interesting documentary
“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.