Based on Tomiko Miyao's original story and set in 1930s Kochi, Japan, the film centers on Yokiro - the region's most distinguished and powerful geisha house - and the turbulent lives that are drawn to it.
Momowaka (Kimiko Ikegami), sold to Yokiro at age 12, has bested over 200 competitors to become top geisha. Despite a glamorous façade, Momowaka's life is largely empty and unsatisfying, with her beauty, talent, and wit wasted entertaining licentious patrons three-times her age.
Daikatsu (Ken Ogata), Momowaka's father, is a soft-hearted pimp, who keeps the Madame of Yokiro - Osode (Mitsuko Baisho) - stocked with fresh goods. Those at Yokiro struggle with their circumstances while fighting the jealousies (from local prostitutes) and dangerous challenges (from neighboring Yakuza) that come with great success.
Gosha (Three Outlaw Samurai -1964, Hitokiri- 1969, and The Wolves-1971) began his career as a reporter for Nippon Television and later became Chief Producer and Director at Fuji TV, experiences that clearly influence the made-for-TV look and feel of The Geisha. The 144-minute run time covers a lot of ground and completes a coherent arc (characters develop, reflect on their motivations, and face the consequences of their actions) but the delivery comes off a bit thin. Still, the film - which won nine Japanese Academy Awards in 1984 (including Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Supporting Actress)- has a little something for most everyone: good performances, gorgeous kimonos, romance and loss, and of course...Pinku catfighting! If the thought of Alexis and Krystle ripping each other's clothes off in the Carrington lily pond is a turn-on, wait till you see this - RrrOw.
The film is presented on DVD with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The picture is generally soft, helping signify the outwardly demur geisha life, but the colorful costumes are eye-catching. Some scratches and negative artifact are present, along with occasional edge enhancement; however, these deficiencies are not overly distracting. There is the option of yellow or white subtitles for dialogue and/or captions; these have a slightly thick font, but are appropriately paced and placed. Viewers reading the English subtitles may be initially confused when following the characters. For example, the female lead answers to four names: Momowaka (geisha stage name), Fusako (birth name) as well as Fu-chan and Fusa-chan. Those finding it difficult figuring out who's who may appreciate the clarity that comes with a subsequent viewing.
The Japanese audio track is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The sound is not exceptionally crisp, but serviceable.
Supplements on the disc include an extensive image gallery of 45 black and white photos, interesting static text screen notes covering geisha life (six slides: history, dress, training, etc.), program notes (30 slides: gambling, music, coming of age, etc,), and cast and crew notes (9 slides). Three theatrical trailers, The Geisha, The Wolves, and Revenge of a Kabuki Actor wrap up the extras.
If a sublime cinematic experience can be compared to reading a thought-provoking issue of The New York Review of Books, then The Geisha is akin to thumbing through Reader's Digest. However, if you're looking to curl up on the couch for 2 ½ hours of melodramatic escape, with a touch of prime-time soap opera Pinku, The Geisha is recommended.