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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The World of Geisha
The World of Geisha
Image // Unrated // September 9, 2003
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted September 29, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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After years of only reading about director Tatsumi Kumashiro, I've finally seen some of his work thanks to the DVD release of his Woman with Red Hair (1979) and World of the Geisha(1973). He was someone I had read about in many a foreign cinema book or magazine article but I could never seem to track down any of his work. My basic impression of him was that he worked in the soft core industry and used the exploitative genre to tell tales of the lower class, show the struggles of the disfranchised, made character studies of the emotionally downtrodden, blue collar Japanese.

What is the world of the geisha? Well, it is one where between sweaty entanglements and falling in love with a reluctant participant in the social upheaval of the times (1917) we get a glimpse into a young geisha's world. We are treated to "the coin trick", in which a geisha, lets just say, doesn't use her hands to pick up a stack of coins. We see the young geishas strict training, like having to scrub the floor while keeping an egg between her legs, and some forced lesbianism from her matriarch. And, it is pretty salacious stuff but also typical of early 70's cinema which became more adventurous with showing sex. After seeing World of the Geisha, noted critic and legendary auteur director Francois Truffaut lauded the film for its "...praise of female beauty and derision of male stupidity."

The geisha house becomes this other world, a means of escape from the struggles of the time, like the rice riots, the Korean uprising, and the looming Sino-Russo War. The man our geisha swoons over is her first real customer, who has come to the geisha house for a fling before his marriage. He breaks her down both psychically and emotionally, the former being a bit odd since I assume most geisha's were not particularly shy and usually had quiet a bit of education into sexual matters in order to become a geisha in the first place. Meanwhile the outside world is falling apart.

Kumashiro does strike a very interesting balance between the soft core and social conscious rebel cinema. For instance, when we see young soldiers in training, instead of keeping their minds on their lesson they talk about sex and the geisha as they rush to kill imaginary enemies. But, I still don't know how well he the film succeeds as either an arty farty work or a soft core effort. It is probably a bit too Tinto Brass and Jess Franco for the Imamura-leaning art crowd. It is certian the focus on sexual kink will not appeal to the history buff crowd. Yet, at the same time, the single take darkly lit shots or eyelash away close-ups may seem a little tame for those looking for some 70's era titillation.

The DVD: Image

Picture: Non-anamorphic widescreen. Like Woman with Red Hair, the transfer of World of the Geisha looks a bit off. While not as squeezed as the other transfer, it still appears that the image is slightly cropped and askew. I'm leaning toward thinking either the source prints are damaged or they are from PAL masters and the conversion is off.

Otherwise, the film does show quite a bit of wear. The color and sharpness are okay, but overall the definition lags and the contrast is pretty faded. Fans of classic world cinema know that not every release is going to be a remastered one. Kumashiro is a one of those directors who worked in a low budget field and his work has largely not been imported, so one has to make do, spotty prints and all. It is passable and forgivable but unfortunately not exactly a feast for the eyes.

Sound: Japanese Dolby Stereo with optional English subtitles. Obviously, due to its era and production, the sound isn't the most technologically impressive aural affair, so don't expect any dynamics. But, for what it is, the track is pleasing, well subtitled, and free of any major distortions.

Extras: Liner Notes--- Chapter Selections--- Trialer

Conclusion: Once again I'm a little cold on Kumashiro. The DVD is pretty spare and the elements are not in the greatest shape. The price is pretty low so the curious and the Kumashiro fans wont find their pockets too stretched to give it a chance, But, for most viewers I'd the content and the quality merits a rental.

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