Hannari: Geisha Modern is a documentary that I truly wanted to like. After all, it was both the production of the 2005 Memoirs of a Geisha and the 2002 The Last Samurai that inspired first-time documentary filmmaker Miyuki Sohara to make this film.
Sohara, who had a small part in the Tom Cruise flick as a geisha, was, according to the production notes for this documentary, "disappointed to learn that the producers of Memoirs of a Geisha had no interest in faithfully reproducing the artistic elements of the geisha culture, such as their dance."
Like her, I was disappointed with the Cruise flick, which I saw, and the snippets of Memoirs of a Geisha, which I have not seen. I had read the book and that was quite enough. The trailers for Memoirs of a Geisha inspired me to write an open letter to Steven Spielberg.
For those who don't know, originally the studio people responsible for the opening party of The Last Samurai sent an infamous email to a local college asking for young, attractive Asian women to dress up and be party favors or eye candy. No pay involved as well as no Asian men required. That email made the rounds nationwide and the studio quickly backtracked.
Later, when Memoirs of a Geisha came out as a movie, the book and the movie seemed to indicate how little Asian and Asian women had really progressed, even after the successful Joy Luck Club -- both 1989 book and 1993 movie. Arthur Golden's novel followed a woman and her experiences prior to World War II, an explosive period in both Japanese history and the history of the United States in terms of societal change and racism and sexism. Golden, like Sohara, focuses on Kyoto geisha, but Sohara's documentary concentrates on modern geisha, as the title implies.
Beginning in 2005, Sohara, a TV announcer and radio DJ and sometime actor, spent three months interviewing and filming geisha in the Gion district. This was, notably, after Mineko Iwasaki had filed a lawsuit against Arthur Golden regarding his 1997 novel Memoirs of a Geisha in 2001. Iwasaki, who does not read English, did read the Japanese edition.