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Ziyi and Watanabe to star in Geisha adaptation

Story by: Jack Foley

LAST Samurai Oscar nominee, Ken Watanabe, will join Chinese actress, Zhang Ziyi, in the eagerly anticipated big screen adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha, it has been announced.

The book follows the story of a young Japanese girl, who overcomes poverty to become an accomplished geisha - a professional female companion for men in Japan, who is schooled in music, dance and conversation.

The role will mark Ziyi's first lead in a US film, although she will be familiar to viewers from scene-stealing turns in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Rush Hour 2 and the upcoming Hero.

Yet, the 25-year-old actress is determined to repay the faith shown in her by the studios, and told the Associated Press that she will 'continue to do my utmost to make this the best role I've ever played'.

Watanabe will play the Chairman, with whom Sayuri falls in love, and is equally keen to do well in the role, having made a huge impression in Hollywood ever since his scene-stealing turn in The Last Samurai.

The actor, who has beaten cancer during his career, has also landed a prominent role in the new Batman movie, Batman Begins.

The film will be directed by Chicago helmer, Rob Marshall, and is to be produced by Steven Spielberg, with former Bond girl, Michelle Yeoh also appearing.

The project marks the realisation of a long-held ambition for Marshall, who has been keen to direct it since the book was first published, in 1997.

He had previously been unable to start work on it, due to contractual commitments with Miramax, and because Columbia Pictures and DreamWorks held the rights to the book.

A deal has been forged between the studios.

Explained Marshall, excitedly: "We are adapting a beloved piece of literature that has become a worldwide sensation, which made it important to me to assemble a cast with a prestigious international profile."

Production on the film has been scheduled to start in the autumn.

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