LOS ANGELES – Actor Ken Watanabe, nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the 2003 film “The Last Samurai,” will star in the movie adaptation of the international best-selling novel “Memoirs of a Geisha,” according to the film’s producers.
Production will begin in Japan and Los Angeles in September.
Watanabe will portray The Chairman, a powerful businessman with whom Sayuri, a beautiful geisha and the story’s heroine, falls in love.
Sayuri will be played by Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, who was praised for her performance in the 2000 Academy Award-winning film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
First published in 1997, Arthur Golden’s celebrated book tells the story of an orphan taken from her fishing village in 1920s-era Japan and trained in the traditional customs of the geisha.
The orphan evolves around Sayuri, a celebrated artisan of culture who entertains powerful men from Japan’s social elite.
The cast includes popular actor Koji Yakusho, who will portray Nobu, a businessman who deeply in love with Sayuri.
Actress Youki Kudoh is set to play Pumpkin, Sayuri’s close childhood friend and fellow geisha.
Yakusho is known for his performance in “Shall We Dance?” and Kudoh in “Snow Falling on Cedars.”
The Malaysian-born action star Michelle Yeoh, who also starred in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and award-winning Chinese actress Gong Li, who starred in “Raise the Red Lantern,” are in the final negotiations to join the “Memoirs” cast.
The screen adaptation of “Memoirs of a Geisha” took years of negotiations in Hollywood.
Rob Marshall, director of “Chicago: The Musical,” which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2002, will direct the film. It will be a joint production by Columbia Pictures, part of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., DreamWorks SKG and Spyglass Entertainment Group LLC.
“We could not be more excited about the extraordinary cast that we have in place for ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ ” Marshall said.
Steven Spielberg, who has churned out hits such as “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List,” will be one of the film’s producers.
“From the time I first read Arthur Golden’s novel, I wanted to see this as a film,” Spielberg said.
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