I just saw a screening of my friend Peter MacIntosh’s documentary geisha film called Real Geisha Real Women at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on June 22, 2009.

It’s a well-done 52-min. film by Peter who interviewed several Kyoto maiko and geiko who give an intriguing look at how they became a maiko/geiko and how it has affected their lives in positive ways.

It’s a series of interviews in Japanese with English subtitles mixed with various scenes of them putting on their make-up and wig, getting dressed in kimono (by a male dresser), performing overseas, and mixing with the crowd in Tokyo. (See a Kyoto geiko posing with Cosplayers in Tokyo.)

The film shows how these women are actually just normal people like everyone else. They eat candy, watch movies, like to eat good food, etc. The older geisha, though, went through a different experience when she was sold into the profession. There’s a good mix of interviewees. Young and old, upcoming and soon-to-retire, as well as former geiko now married and happy with married life and her three kids.

Being a maiko/geisha is a way of life, and can be quite restrictive. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see some of them retired (or want to retire) to get married (all maiko/geiko in Kyoto must remian single) or find another occupation while still being young enough. It was also surprising to see how some of them have started side businesses/occupations such as singing (a childhood dream for one geiko) and selling their own cosmetics line.

I think it’s valuable visual/audio record of these women, a valuable oral history reflecting Japanese tradition as well as the current times. Peter was mainly motivated to make this film after seeing so many foreign journalists who could never get it right in portraying the geisha. (I can well understand this.) He plans to make a sequel. The cameraman and film editor was John Wells in Kyoto (another friend of mine).

The film is available on DVD for UD$47.99 including shipping. You can order it here:

You can also see the trailer, but it’s just a music video clip without any talking. Don’t be misled by it. The actual film has no music, only talking. I think this film is ideal for the education market. Universities, high schools, etc., teaching Japanese would or should be interested in acquiring this video.