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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 November 2005, 15:57 GMT
Tokyo hosts Geisha film premiere
Ziyi Zhang
Ziyi Zhang plays the story's central character Sayuri Nitta
The Hollywood film adaptation of the best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha has received its world premiere at the national sumo arena in Tokyo.

The movie, based on Arthur Golden's book, is being tipped as a possible Academy Award contender.

Stars Ziyi Zhang and Ken Watanabe joined director Rob Marshall, whose film Chicago won the best picture Oscar in 2003, were at the screening.

The film is out in the US and Japan in December and in the UK in January.

Memoirs of a Geisha is the first major US film to feature an almost entirely Asian cast.

Chinese actress Zhang takes on the lead role in the story, which traces the rise of a girl from a poor fishing village.

Malaysia's Michelle Yeoh and China's Gong Li also appear, alongside Japanese stars Watanabe - who was in the Last Samurai - Kaori Momoi, Youki Kudoh, and Suzuka Ohgo.

Culture course

Memoirs of a Geisha, co-produced by Steven Spielberg, is set in Japan's former capital Kyoto but was mostly shot in California.

Arthur Golden's book was criticised by its real-life subject, former geisha Mineko Iwasaki, who said it portrayed the Japanese entertainers and hostesses as prostitutes.

Michelle Yeoh and Zhang Ziyi, stars of the film
Memoirs of a Geisha opens in the US and Japan in December

When the film project was announced, some commentators questioned whether non-Japanese actresses in the lead roles and an American director could accurately represent the culture.

The cast underwent a six-week course in geisha culture to help them prepare for their parts.

Marshall admitted it was "scary" to make a film based on such a popular novel.

Speaking at a news conference ahead of the premiere, he said: "I really wanted to honour the novel and honour this extraordinary profession.

"I think there is a misconception about what a geisha is across the world, certainly in the Western world. One of the joys of this movie was to clarify what a geisha is."



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