-Stars Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh, Youki Kudoh, and Suzuka Ohgo.
-Ohgo plays the younger version of Sayuri in the movie, which was filmed in northern and southern California with scenes also shot in Kyoto, including the Kiyomizu temple and Fushimi Inari shrine
-The movie tells the story of a young girl named Chiyo Sakamoto, who is sold into slavery by her family. She is then sent to school to learn the ways of Geisha girls. Throughout the movie, she is trying to locate her sister, and how she grows up and becomes a geisha.
Did You Know?
-Maggie Cheung was considered for the role of Mameha
-Yunjin Kim turned down a lead role in the film
-The actresses had only 6 weeks to learn all there is to know about geisha girls
-Zhang Ziyi was allergic to the contact lenses she had to wear
-Neither Gong Li or Suzuka Ohgo could speak English at the time
-Youki Kudoh, who plays an adult Pumpkin, had to learn how to speak with a Japanese accent, even though she was born in Japan and speaks with an American accent from living in the United States for so long
-Throughout the movie, each character seems to represent the 4 main elements of the world: Sayuri is water because of her eyes, Mameha is wind, Pumpkin is wood, and Hatsumomo is fire
-The movie is set in Japan, during the Showa Era. It tells the story of a young girl named Chiyo Sakamoto(as a child Suzuka Ohgo, and later on, Zhang Ziyi), a poor, young Japanese girl who has been sold by her family along with her sister Satsu into a life of slavery by her parents when they were 9. Chiyo is taken is by the manager of a geisha house, Mother(Kaori Momoi), but Satsu is sent to a different house, in the "pleasure district" of the Hanamachi. At the okiya(geisha house), she meets another young girl nicknamed "Pumpkin"(Youki Kudoh). Both are sent to geisha school but Chiyo brings shame to the okiya by attempting to run away. Instead of training to be a geisha, she is given hard work to pay off the debt of her schooling. Hatsumomo(Gong Li), is a beautiful, famous yet cruel geisha who lives at the same okiya. She blackmails Chiyo into ruining a kimono that belongs to a famous geisha named Mameha(Michelle Yeoh). Chiyo is beaten severely in the courtyard by Mother, but Auntie(Tsai Chin) convinces Mother to let her take over the beating. She tells Chiyo that she will "beat you hard, so Mother will not beat you harder." And Mother is seen inside, listening to the radio, turning it up to tune out Chiyo's screams of pain
-Chiyo escapes, once again, to try and escape with her sister. She goes a different way this time. The okiya is locked after Hatsumomo's disgrace, so this forces Chiyo to go across the rooftops, but falls and ends back up in the okiya. Mother tells Chiyo that she has gained great debts and explains Satsu has run away that night, without waiting for Chiyo. She never sees Satsu again and Mother tells her to forget that she had a sister saying "We are your only family now." She then places a package on her stomach, which has a letter(read to her by Auntie; since Chiyo can't read). It reports the death of her mother and then a few weeks later, her father. She has this feeling that she can't sink much lower.
-The 3 leading non-Japanese actresses(Zhang Ziyi, Gong Li, Michelle Yeoh) were put through so called "Geisha boot camp" where they were trained in traditional geisha practices, such as musicianship, dance, tea ceremony
-Towards the end of filming, some scenes were actually shot in Japan, such as the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine, in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto.
-Controversy also arose when the roles of geisha, Sayuri(Zhang Ziyi), Mameha(Michelle Yeoh) and Hatsumomo(Gong Li), did not go to Japanese actresses.
-Opinion in the Asian commmunity was mixed. To some Chinese, the casting was offensive because it made the women look like prostitutes, and it revived memories of wartime Japan problems. A website ended up denouncing Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi as an "embarrassment to China"
-Asians also took offence at the film's main Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe. He said that "talent is more important than nationality". I'm with him on this. It shouldn't matter about ethnicity. Hell, back in the 40s, when Charlie Chan was on, no one knew for years that he was actually a white British actor, either Sidney Toler, Roland Winter or Warner Oland. No one actually Asian ever played that character!