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No cowboys in China

'Geisha' seems to be victim of anti-Japanese sentiment

“Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Brokeback Mountain” will not be shown in mainland China after high-ranking officials deemed both unfit for consumption.

With homosexuality still largely taboo in China, the gay cowboys of “Brokeback” may be more than a domestic audience can take, a source from China Film Group, the mainland’s only film importer, told the Xinhua news agency.

But it seems “Geisha” has fallen victim to anti-Japanese sentiment.

Despite reports to the contrary, “Geisha” was actually approved by strict censors at China’s powerful regulator, the State Administration of Radio, Film & Television, over concerns about scenes of a sexual nature.

But that decision was overruled by higher government officials.

They fear the sight of some of China’s best-loved thesps — Gong Li and Ziyi Zhang, as well as Hong Kong star Michelle Yeoh — playing Japanese courtesans could prove inflammatory for mainland auds.

Pic missed its January playdate and was pushing for a Feb. 10 opening.

Distributor Columbia TriStar is still hopeful the film will be shown in China.

“The movie has been passed by the censors and is now in the dubbing process. We’ve had no official screening date, but we’re optimistic ‘Geisha’ will be shown here,” said Li Chow, Col TriStar’s general manager in China.

Relations between China and Japan are complicated at the best of times. Ties hit a post-war low in April, when thousands of Chinese took to the streets to protest Japan’s wartime aggression. China believes Japan has not done enough to atone for its invasion and brutal occupation from 1937 to 1945.

Meanwhile, “Brokeback’s” R rating in the U.S. means it’s unlikely to be one of the foreign movies allowed into China under the quota system. China does not have a movie rating system, though industry figures are lobbying hard to get one.

Other industry figures said the fact that “Brokeback” is considered an arthouse movie works against it.

Ironically, there has been an outpouring of national pride in pic’s Taiwanese helmer Ang Lee after the film’s recent successes at the Golden Globes and elsewhere.

China considers Taiwan a renegade province that will one day return to the fold and views Lee as a native son.

In Hong Kong last week, Lee said he thought Asian audiences were generally better disposed toward gay themes than people in some parts of the U.S.

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