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The Pillow Book
The Pillow Book
Actors: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida, Ken Ogata, Hideko Yoshida
Director: Peter Greenaway
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Cult Movies
NR     1998     2hr 6min

Three experiences make an indelible impression on a young girl's childhood: her father's tender calligraphy on her face and neck, the text of a noblewoman's sensual diary, and the discovery that her father is being blackma...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida, Ken Ogata, Hideko Yoshida
Director: Peter Greenaway
Creators: Peter Greenaway, Denis Wigman, Jean-Louis Piel, Jessinta Liu, Kees Kasander, Terry Glinwood, Sei Shonagon
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Cult Movies
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Love & Romance, Drama
Studio: Sony Pictures
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 12/15/1998
Original Release Date: 06/06/1997
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/1996
Release Year: 1998
Run Time: 2hr 6min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 27
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: Japanese
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

A breathtakingly magnificent visual experience!
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 02/08/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"THE PILLOW BOOK goes where few films have dared. Peter Greenaway is a unique artist and has created a touching story in a cinematic technique that is clearly his own. Simply stated, The Pillow Book is a journal kept by Japanese women who write private thoughts about desire, beauty, sensuality, and the moments in life that are indescribably unforgetable. In this story we see the unfolding of the life of a daughter of a calligrapher/writer who is able to provide for this beloved family and all their traditions by his assignations with his publisher. The child is taught her father's skills, each birthday having her father write the story of creation on her face, signed by 'god' on her back. This 'writing on the body' is eventually the means of gaining revenge on her father's demeaning publisher: she searches for the perfect lover (one who can make love as well as write beautifully in calligraphy) only to find a British translator (who happens to be the lover of her publisher)who encourages the girl to write her uniquely original books on his body - the matrix for delivery of her book to the publisher, a man who otherwise has rejected her gifts. To reveal the ending would spoil the mesmerizing intrigue of the film. Suffice it to say that love and honor eventually triumph...The techniques of cinematic magic include the simultneous use of Black and White photogrpahy with Color photography, screens within screens, still life within motion, the wonder of observing Japanese writing, the use of written scrolls superimposed on moments of story telling. Greenaway is one of the very few directors who is unafraid of frontal nudity. He has the beauty of Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor which he paints sensually, allowing the camera to view the entire body being adorned both with calligraphy and with love making. But seeing is believing and for those who thirst for originality in art, for adoration of the human form, for sensitive story telling with a subject that is wholly unique, then this film is a MUST.
THE PILLOW BOOK should be in the art library of all art lovers."
Words Made Flesh
azindn | Arizona, USA | 02/18/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Pillow Book is a rare film that transcends limitations of film and text in a unique handling by auteur Peter Greenaway. Based loosely on the tenth century writings of Sei Shonagon, Greenaway brings to the screen a rich visual amalgam that relies on stunning settings, the physical beauty of actors Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor, and the joy of ancient and modern systems of writing that is calligraphy. Greenaway's penchant for incorporating art, numbers, books, and architecture in a filmic medium ensure those who enjoy his style will not be disappointed.

As a young child, Wu's character has celebrated her birthday's by having her father write the story of creation on her face in a family ritual celebration. However, with adulthood and marriage, her spouse is neither interested nor willing to continue her tradition. Frustrated at her inability to find a lover who is a good calligrapher, or a calligrapher who is a good lover, Wu finally meets a bi-sexual translator, Jerome (McGregor) who offers himself to Wu as a living surface for her erotic creativity. Inspired by the opportunity to obtain revenge on the publisher who blackmailed her father and is Jerome's lover, Wu's character, Nagiko creates the ultimate love poem illuminated in red, gold and black characters and delivered to the publisher on the naked body of Jerome.

The Pillow Book is adult eroticism at it's most sensuous and visual best. It is a story that revels in binaries of profane and grotesque, yet delights the eye with Greenaway's ability to translate a vision of love and horror into a singular statement of lush physical beauty and sexuality. However, that said, it is also a film which is best viewed on the large screen as several elements of the film maker's medium include inset panels which include parallel scenes or present visual narratives of textual elements as they are voiced. Additional calligraphied text reveal Nagiko's narratives from her own pillow book, a journal of musings and observations which detail her voiced narrations but on the small screen become illegible. A second problemematic element is Greenaway's use of a 3/4th screen often creating the compositional balance in a negative space black band at the bottom of the screen. Some will find these kinds of articulations irritating although this kind of art as film in the hands of Greenaway is elegant and sublime on the theatrical full screen . A difficult film but worthy of all attention for lovers of unique film making."
Dizzy DVD Version
Jason Seeley | Seattle WA/USA | 11/24/1999
(1 out of 5 stars)

"This DVD is an atrocity. I saw the dreaded warning to late, "This movie, while filmed in multi-aspect ratios, has been re-formatted to fit your T.V." With most hollywood flicks this doesn't matter, but for anyone who has seen this film in the theater watching this cropped version is like seeing loved ones gunned down in cold blood. I can only hope that there will be a special edition DVD that will include the entire film."
To the Critics
J. Young | New York City | 05/09/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)

"My review addresses some of the negative reviews left by others who have seen this movie. The film has been denounced as pretentious, I would contend that it maintains a distanced air which is effective in setting a mood. The film is visually stunning and seems to be making several statements about love, art and the creation of both i.e., the relation of detached artist to subject or detached subject of artist is vicerally highlighted through the atmosphere of distance. Secondly, the film was pronounced "boring". In answer I say, the film is quite complicated and combines foreign and contrasting elements of European, Chinese and Japanese cultures, it is multi-faceted, multi-layered and enhanced by technologically inspired visual imagery. There is much to appreciate in the film, as there is much not to appreciate if one chooses to do so. Boring is a subjective term. A film that centers on the millennial artistic heritage of Chinese calligraphy may not titillate the masses as intensely as the comedic antics of modern day buffoons. Simply stated, the movie is not pandering to the lowest common denominator, nor is it an exercise in cultural elitism, it is a pure expression of an artist's vision -- it is beautiful."