Memoirs Of A Geisha director Rob Marshall has defended his decision to cast Chinese actors in place of Japanese ones - insisting they were employed for their talent, not where they come from.

The American film-maker spoke out after being chastised by Chinese critics for appointing Chinese actresses Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li to play major roles in the adaptation of Arthur Golden's popular novel.

The critics insist Marshall's choice is insensitive because of the atrocities committed by the Japanese during their 1930s Chinese occupation.

Marshall says, "When you saw ZORBA THE GREEK, and you saw Anthony Quinn play ZORBA, was that odd to you because he was Irish and Mexican?"

Gong Li, who plays top Geisha HATSUMO in the film, defended her position, insisting her decision to star in the film was based purely on character, not race.

She says, "As actors, we seek roles that challenge and inspire us."

Memoirs Of A Geisha opens in the UK in December (05).