China hasn't approved new movie 'Memoirs of a Geisha'

The Chinese government hasn't approved the release of the Hollywood film "Memoirs of a Geisha" two weeks before its planned debut in China, a movie executive said Wednesday. The movie's possible delay comes amid speculation that Chinese officials were worried that the sight of ethnic Chinese actresses portraying Japanese geishas may spark a public backlash.

"'Memoirs of a Geisha' has not been officially rejected, but it's true that the release may have to be delayed," said Li Chow, general manager for Columbia TriStar Film Distributors International and Sony Pictures Entertainment in China, which is releasing the film in China.

Li said in a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press that Chinese authorities still need to sign off on the translation and dubbing of the Steven Spielberg-produced movie, originally slated to start showing in Chinese movie theaters Feb. 9. "We are hopeful that the approval will be forthcoming, but at this point that has not yet happened," the executive wrote.

Some are concerned the film's casting choices may stir an outcry in mainland China, where people are still upset about Japanese World War II-era military atrocities.

"Memoirs" features Zhang Ziyi of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" fame as a rising geisha, an entertainer trained in dance, singing and conversation, former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh as her mentor, and "Raise the Red Lantern" star Gong Li as a rival. The film, a Columbia Pictures production, has already inspired angry Internet postings denouncing Zhang ahead of its release.

Sino-Japanese relations have been traditionally strained, mainly because of Japan's wartime conduct in China. Historians generally estimate the Japanese army killed some 150,000 people during its 1937-38 occupation of the eastern Chinese city of Nanjing, then known as Nanking, although Chinese historians put the death toll as high as 300,000.

Many Chinese believe Japan hasn't sufficiently atoned for its wrongdoing. Adding to the already sensitive nature of "Memoirs," in the movie Zhang's character serves a businessman who was a Japanese soldier in the occupied Chinese territory of Manchuria.

Anti-Japanese sentiment flared in China as recently as April last year, when locals protested against Japanese textbooks they claim whitewash the country's military atrocities. Demonstrators vandalized Japanese-related shops and smashed windows at Japanese diplomatic offices in Shanghai and Beijing, reports the AP. N.U.