Japanese actor Ken Watanabe has defended the casting of ethnic Chinese actresses for the main roles in "Memoirs of a Geisha," saying that the geisha art was like Italian opera and people with different nationalities should be allowed to perform. "Memoirs" features Zhang Ziyi from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," along with former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li as geishas, entertainers trained in song, dance and conversation.
Critics say the sight of Chinese actresses playing subservient geishas insults the memory of Chinese victims of Japanese atrocities during World War II. But Watanabe, who plays a businessman in "Memoirs," said the art of being a geisha should be universal.
"I thought a lot about the meaning of geisha in Japanese society, and during shooting it occurred to me that geisha has always been like opera, beautiful costumes and beautiful music and amazing dancing and maybe some love," Watanabe said in an interview published in the February edition of the magazine Prestige Hong Kong.
"Opera is totally Italian. But sometimes German or English or Chinese or Japanese people play in the opera," he said.
"The same thing with this movie. Talent is the most important thing. A beautiful soprano. A wonderful tenor. Not your nationality," Watanabe argued.
Watanabe moved on to Hollywood after achieving fame in his native Japan, appearing in "The Last Samurai" with Tom Cruise and "Batman Begins."
He said he aims to make two movies between Hollywood and Japan in the next one-and-a-half years. Watanabe added he will also be working on promoting his new Japanese movie, "Memories of Tomorrow," about a young Alzheimer's disease patient, reports the AP. N.U.