Hannari: Geisha Modern

"Grim"

Hannari: Geisha Modern Review


As a follow-up to Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha -- a mesmerizing novel about a retired geisha looking back on her life's work -- and the extraordinary 2005 movie made of it, this documentary works well as an educative follow-up without the drama. Picking up on these dedicated ladies where the book and film left off, it details how they live and function now in modern-day Japan, hanging on by their kimono strap.

In a series of interviews with dance and music masters, aged queens of the geisha world and novices in training, it clarifies how the practice is maintained, financed, and fit into a society that still values its traditions but hasn't got much in the way of universal acclaim.

The emphasis is on training in the old styles of dance, its slow rhythms, its gestures, poses, tableaus, and symbolic lines of movement in the magnificent kimonos that are, themselves, classic art forms. But the life of today's "geiko" isn't 24/7 performance and, when not on stage, she will occupy her time serving clients in teahouses.

The clash of tradition and modernity -- a story of diminishing support and outside influence -- is expressed by the philosophical ruminations of one choreographer who laments over limited resources, and by one geisha's stark break from traditional rules with a 2nd career as a jazz and pop singer and who gets a record contract and travels to New York in between geisha gigs.

The nature of the disciplined geisha subculture is made visually stunning when a single geisha walks alone, past shopping districts and alleyways, in her brilliant ornamentation and makeup, en route to a performance or dinner appointment. Anywhere else she'd be assumed to be on her way to a costume party. Here, the expressions on the street people as she passes illustrate the special strata occupy and regard these women have among their fellow citizens. Imagine a revered painting come to life.

Never mentioning the issue of sexual services or even of marriage, the devotional and artistic aspects of the subject are what writer-director Miyuki Sohara dwells on with academic devotion. Perhaps the access granted to her for this project came with imposed restrictions, but her proper and serious little film does little to reverse the tradition's waning vitality and support. Awkwardness in storytelling, a planned structure, and the lack of thematic organization reveals an amateur at work, though it does afford a glimpse into something whose 15th century roots make it a unique and mesmerizing anachronism. How nice that there's still room for it in Japanese culture.

Sohara's noble goal may have been to dispel the titillation factor that comes to mind on the mention of a "geisha," and get people -- particularly disrespectful males -- to click with the serious and complex dedication behind its charm and artistry. Hannari: Geisha Modern is likely to hit the mark of appreciation mostly with Japanese historians, government censors, and bookish observers. Boys looking for more will be grossed out by the dry presentation. Geisha, geisha, geisha!



Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 1st November 2006

Distributed by: Sakura Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director: Miyuki Sohara

Producer: Kentarô Kajino, Miyuki Sohara

Also starring:

Contactmusic


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