Memoirs of a Geisha:Memoirs of a Geisha, a sweeping romantic epic based on the internationally acclaimed best-seller by Arthur Golden, has begun filming in Los Angeles under the direction of Academy Award® nominee Rob Marshall ("Chicago"). In addition to locations in the Los Angeles area, "Memoirs of a Geisha" will film in Japan and Northern California.

The film's stellar ensemble cast includes Ziyi Zhang ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Hero") in the title role, opposite Oscar® nominee Ken Watanabe ("The Last Samurai," the upcoming "Batman Begins") as the man she loves. Gong Li ("Raise the Red Lantern"), Michelle Yeoh ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"), Koji Yakusho ("Shall We Dance?") and Youki Kudoh ("Snow Falling On Cedars") also star in leading roles.

Produced by Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick and Steven Spielberg, the Columbia Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and Spyglass Entertainment project also boasts an award-winning team of behind-the-scenes artists including many of Marshall's key "Chicago" collaborators. The screen adaptation was written by Ron Bass, Akiva Goldsman, Robin Swicord and Doug Wright. The executive producers are Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Patricia Whitcher and Bobby Cohen.

Set in a mysterious exotic world, which still casts a potent spell today, the story begins in the years before WWII when a penniless Japanese child is torn from her family to work as a maid in a geisha house. Despite a treacherous rival who nearly breaks her spirit, the girl blossoms into the legendary geisha Sayuri (Zhang). Beautiful and accomplished, Sayuri captivates the most powerful men of her day, but is haunted by her secret love for the one man who is out of her reach (Watanabe).

To capture this vividly detailed and beloved saga on film, Marshall has selected Dion Beebe, an Oscar® nominee for "Chicago," as director of photography. Production designer John Myhre and costume designer Colleen Atwood, both Oscar® winners for their work on "Chicago," have also joined the production. Academy Award® winner Pietro Scalia ("Black Hawk Down") is the film's editor. Multiple Oscar® winner John Williams ("Star Wars," "E.T.") will compose the score. Award-winning choreographer John DeLuca, also from the "Chicago" team, is co-producer.

Actress Ziyi Zhang comes to the lead role of Sayuri with a worldwide reputation. Her impassioned performance in Ang Lee's Oscar®-nominated "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" brought her the Independent Spirit and Toronto Film Critics Awards for Best Supporting Actress. She recently starred in "House of Flying Daggers" and the Oscar®-nominated "Hero"; both critically acclaimed films were directed by Zhang Yimou. She has also been seen in the American film "Rush Hour 2."

Ken Watanabe, an Academy Award® nominee for his portrayal of the warrior 'Katsumoto' in "The Last Samurai" and a star of the upcoming "Batman Begins," plays the powerful man who claims Sayuri's heart. His many Japanese film and television credits include the popular comedy "Tampopo."

Gong Li, the acclaimed international star, makes her debut in a major American film as Sayuri's cunning rival. She'll next be seen with Ziyi Zhang in Wong Kar-Wai's upcoming "2046." Her earlier films include "Ju Dou," "Red Sorghum," "Raise the Red Lantern" and "Shanghai Triad," all for director Zhang Yimou. In addition, she has starred in "The Emperor and the Assassin," "Temptress Moon," "Farewell My Concubine" and, most recently, "Zhou Yu's Train."

Michelle Yeoh, who was Ziyi Zhang's co-star and sparring partner in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," joins the cast as the elegant and experienced geisha who guides Sayuri. Yeoh's work in "Crouching Tiger" brought her Best Actress nominations for the Taipei Golden Horse Award, the Hong Kong Film Award and the BAFTA Award. Her film credits include the James Bond film "Tomorrow Never Dies."

Koji Yakusho, a major star in Japan before Western audiences discovered him in the original "Shall We Dance?," portrays the man who seeks to become Sayuri's patron. Yakusho had a memorable scene in "Tampopo" and has had leading roles in many films including "The Eel" and "Warm Water Under a Red Bridge."

Youki Kudoh, who won Japan's Best Actress Academy Award for the film "War and Youth," plays Sayuri's childhood friend. Most recently seen in the U.S. in "Snow Falling on Cedars," she also starred in Jim Jarmusch's "Mystery Train," which brought her a Best Actress nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. She received the International Actress of the Year Award from the Japan Film Critics for "Picture Bride."

Rob Marshall made his debut as a feature film director with "Chicago," which won six Academy Awards® including Best Picture in 2002. The film brought Marshall an Oscar® nomination for Best Director, as well as the DGA Award and many other honors that year. A six-time Tony Award nominee, he also directed and choreographed the television movie musical "Annie" which brought him an Emmy Award for Best Choreography plus Emmy and DGA nominations for Best Director.

Producer Douglas Wick is a Best Picture Oscar® winner for "Gladiator." Producer Steven Spielberg, nominated for numerous Academy Awards®, won the Best Director Oscar® for "Saving Private Ryan" and "Schindler's List," as well as Best Picture for "Schindler's List." Lucy Fisher is the former Vice Chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Pictures.

Brian B. at Movieweb
Brian B.