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Last Updated: Saturday, 21 August, 2004, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Geisha novel gets film go-ahead
Ziyi Zhang
Zhang is best known for her role in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
After many years in the Hollywood pipeline, Arthur Golden's best-selling novel Memoirs of a Geisha is set for a big screen adaptation.

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, best known to international audiences for her role in 2000's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, will play the lead role.

The film will be directed by Chicago director Rob Marshall and produced by Steven Spielberg.

Ken Watanabe and former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh will co-star.

'Best role'

The book follows a young Japanese girl who rises from poverty to become an accomplished geisha - a professional female companion for men in Japan, schooled in music, dance and conversation.

It will mark Zhang Ziyi's first lead in an English-language film.

"It will be a big challenge, but the studios, producers and director have shown great confidence in me."

"I will continue to do my utmost to make this the best role I've ever played," the 25-year-old told the Associated Press.

Ken Watanabe
Oscar nominee Ken Watanabe will star opposite Zhang

Ken Watanabe, Oscar-nominated for The Last Samurai, will play the Chairman, with whom Sayuri falls in love.

Zhang Ziyi's co-star in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Michelle Yeoh will play Sayuri's mentor and fellow geisha, Mameha.

'Worldwide sensation'

First published in 1997, Memoirs of a Geisha has been a long-nurtured project for director Rob Marshall.

However, the director was unable further the project as he was locked into a contract with Miramax, while Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks held the rights to the book.

A deal has subsequently been forged between the studios.

"We are adapting a beloved piece of literature that has become a worldwide sensation, which made it important to me to assemble a cast with a prestigious international profile," said Marshall.

"From the time I first read Arthur Golden's novel, I wanted to see this as a film, " added producer Steven Spielberg.

"It's a uniquely compelling story, rich with characters, who take you into a world you have never experienced before."

Production is scheduled to begin in the autumn.

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