The Chinese government has canceled the release of "Memoirs of a Geisha" -- a decision made amid speculation that officials are worried the sight of Chinese actresses playing Japanese geishas would stir a backlash.
The film originally was cleared for distribution on Feb. 9, but the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV reversed itself over the weekend, according to Sony Pictures Entertainment, which had planned to distribute the film in China.
The official reasons weren't immediately clear, and Chinese authorities couldn't be reached because offices were closed for a national holiday.
"We were pleased by their acceptance of the film in November and were disappointed by this decision," said Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment.
"Memoirs," based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden, features "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" star Ziyi Zhang, former Bond girl Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li from "Raise the Red Lantern" as geishas -- entertainers skilled in dance, song and conversation.
The casting choices had stokedtraditional Sino-Japanese tensions even before its scheduledrelease, with postings on a Chinese Web site denouncing Zhang as anembarrassment to China.
Many Chinese are still upset aboutJapanese World War II-era military atrocities in China and the lackof what they feel is a proper apology for them. Historiansgenerally estimate the Japanese army killed about 150,000 peopleduring its 1937-38 occupation of China's Nanjing city, then knownas Nanking. Chinese historians put the death toll at as high as300,000.
Producers Douglas Wick ("Gladiator") andLucy Fisher and director Rob Marshall ("Chicago") previously toldThe Associated Press the casting was an exhaustive, meticulousprocess that considered acting ability, star power and physicaltraits.
Illegal copies of the movie are alreadyavailable in China, which has come under heavy criticism forrampant piracy. High-quality "Memoirs" DVDs surfaced in Shanghaiweeks ago.