When Mameha declines from attending the Baron's party, Hatsumomo viciously asks 'taking care of a little nuisance?'. While never fully divulged in the film, the book goes onto explain that Mameha had gone for an abortion.
The film was heavily criticized by Asian critics for having Chinese actresses portraying the geishas. In reality, according to producer Lucy Fisher, the producers held an open day for audition for Japanese actresses to audition for those roles. None turned up and they had to turn to other Asian actresses for casting.
The collars on the Geishas' kimono indicate their 'status' as a Geisha and give customers an indication of their ranking. A Maiko (apprentice Geisha) wears a red collar to symbolize she is in training while an accomplished Geisha will wear a white collar. This is where the phrase "turning the collar" comes from.
The makeup the Geishas wear early in this movie is less traditional and more modern so that it translates to a more modern audience; a Geisha of the time rarely ever fully painted her lips, and would either paint the bottom lip, just the top, or partially the center of both. The full painting of lips did not come until after the forties and the fifties, with the increase of Western culture and style.
There was much discussion about the traditional Geisha hairstyles of the time period and the filmmakers decided to give each character a specific hairstyle that was slightly symbolic of her character. Pumpkin's hair was slightly over-exaggerated with many ornaments to indicate her character's desperation to succeed. Hatsumomo's hair when loose was wild, while her up-do was set with sections of hair dangling out to indicate her character's disregard for tradition, and her loose morals. Mameha's hair was side swept with simple buns or generally loose over one shoulder to give her a simple elegant appearance. Sayuri's hair was always a simple style either in a bun, a braid or a less exaggerated style to indicate her natural beauty and less need of elaborate styles.
Although never fully elaborated on, the dance on stage that Sayuri performs tells the story of a woman who suspects her husband of infidelity and waits outside in the snow to catch her husband leaving his mistress; unfortunately a blizzard sweeps over the land and she succumbs to the elements. In the novel, it was Mameha who performs this dance.
The film was banned in China because Chinese actresses play Japanese geisha. The national film board and the Office for the Administration of Radio, Film and Television claimed that it was banned because the storyline is "too sensitive".
The film's winter light effect was discovered incidentally days before production. With the silk rigged to prevent rain water from damaging the set, the rigging crew attempted to emulate daylight during night. Gaffer John Buckley threw 3/4 lights from top to bottom of the set through the silk. Thus was the result and it was what Dion Beebe got which he went on to win Best Cinematographer of 2005.
Youki Kudoh, the actress who portrays the adult Pumpkin had to work with dialect coaches and re-learn how to speak with a Japanese accent as although in real life having been born in Japan, speaks with an American accent from living in the USA for a good portion of her life.
The filmmakers decided that the Gion district of modern-day Kyoto (the Geisha district where Arthur Golden's novel is set) looked much too modern to evoke the 1920s and 30s. So, a large set of the Gion district was constructed outside of Los Angeles in Thousand Oaks, California. The detailed set had real cobblestone streets, bridges, a river, period buildings and antique props which evoked the period described in the novel.
According to Colleen Atwood, the costume designer, 250 hand-tailored kimonos were made for the film. She also said that their prints, patterns and colors are bigger and bolder than traditional kimonos.
The Sumo Wrestler who won the match is retired Sumo Wrestler Mainoumi who reached the rank of Komosubi (Junior Champion). He retired in November 1999 and is now a Sumo Announcer for NHK among other things.
It took a lot of negotiating to get Rob Marshall to direct this film. Since he directed the hit film Chicago (2002) for Miramax, he owed his next film to them. This is a DreamWorks film. It was only because Miramax and DreamWorks have a long history of borrowing talent from each other that they were able to work out a deal.
Because none of the Japanese rickshaws were large enough for the two women to be comfortably seated next to each other, the rickshaw used for the scenes in which Mameha and Sayuri travel together in one carriage was manufactured in California, using wheels and axles shipped in from Japan.