The Chinese government has cancelled the release of Memoirs of a Geisha – a decision made amid speculation officials are worried the sight of Chinese actresses playing Japanese geishas would stir a backlash.
The film was originally cleared for distribution on February 9, but the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV reversed itself over the weekend, a US film industry official said today.
The official reasons were not immediately clear, and Chinese authorities could not be reached because offices were closed for a national holiday.
“We were pleased by their acceptance of the film in November and were disappointed by this decision,” said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had planned to distribute the film in China.
Memoirs, based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden, features Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Ziyi Zhang, former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li from Raise the Red Lantern as geishas – entertainers skilled in dance, song and conversation.
The casting choices had stoked traditional Sino-Japanese tensions even before its scheduled release, with postings on a Chinese website denouncing Zhang as an embarrassment to China.
Many Chinese are still upset about Japanese World War II-era military atrocities in China and the lack of what they feel is a proper apology for them.
Illegal copies of the movie are already available in China, which has come under heavy criticism for rampant piracy. High-quality Memoirs DVDs surfaced in Shanghai weeks ago.