The Pillow Book (1997)
Peter Greenaway directed this elliptical and visually intricate tale of the far side of erotic and intellectual attraction. As a girl, Nagiko would receive a special gift each year from her father: a calligrapher (Ken Ogata) who would carefully paint a poem on her face, as her aunt (Hideko Yoshida) read aloud from The Pillow Book, a classic Japanese text on the art of love. As Nagiko (Vivian Wu) reached adulthood, her father insisted on putting a stop to this ritual, and he persuaded her to marry the nephew of his publisher (Ken Mitsuishi). But Nagiko is not satisfied with her husband, and after finding success as a model, she seeks a lover who will indulge her fondness for literature by writing verse on her naked body. In time, she finds happiness with a British expatriate named Jerome (Ewan McGregor), who persuades her to use his body as paper for her poetry, but the interference of her father's publisher (Yoshi Oida) gives their relationship a tragic turn. Greenaway deliberately mistranslated some of the French and Japanese dialogue for The Pillow Book, hoping that the occasionally fractured language would give the film a "Tower of Babel" quality. … More
Related News & Features
Greenaway Paints Rembrandt Biopic
– Rotten Tomatoes
No Friends? Inconceivable! Log in to see what your friends have to say.Login
Critic Reviews for The Pillow Book
A very intimate, sensual film, and a torrid, lurid melodrama, full of passion, jealousy, hatred and revenge.
A seductive and elegant story that combines a millennium of Japanese art and fetishes with the story of a neurotic modern woman who tells a lover: "Treat me like the pages of a book."
Greenaway, whose mind is one of the most impressive, complicated organs that ever sat on the shoulders of a filmmaker, seems to be playing connect the dots to himself, almost dumbing himself down to be commercial.
Despite its arresting visual style, its wave after wave of creative and hypnotic images, "The Pillow Book," as its name hints, slowly but inexorably leads to sleep.
''The Pillow Book'' finds the filmmaker at his most atypically seductive, creating a spellbinding web of cruel elegance and intricate gamesmanship, exploring the exotic, haunting beauty of the bizarre.
Never less than mesmerizing, even when you're not exactly sure what exactly Greenaway is trying to say.
Both exhilarating and exhausting, The Pillow Book is undeniably bold, sometimes beautiful, filmmaking.
The association of writing and eroticism. Burning books. A spectacularly gruesome death and a desecrated corpse. It's a Peter Greenaway picture all right--as stunning and inscrutable as ever.
The interplay of the metaphoric and the literal, of artistic form and arbitrary symmetry, might still amuse Peter Greenaway, but for most of the rest of us the game is getting a little old.
Manages to carry on Peter Greenaway's tradition of cherishing both the erotic and the exotic.
Greenaway's characters may work fine as painting surfaces, but they have no interior life or independence that would arouse passion, and the director practically handles their couplings with tongs.
Occasionally moving, always pretty, it also veers into pretentiousness, especially when it comes to Nagiko's aphoristic writing (for instance, "Closed eyes cannot read").
What it is is breathtaking moviemaking. Against all odds, it works, magically, transcendentally, perfectly.
Audience Reviews for The Pillow Book
Great film, Peter Greenaway direction is beautiful! This is the first film were Hollywood took note of the young Ewan McGregor too but it's Vivian Wu who steals the show.
I just watched this again after 15 years and have completely changed my mind. I guess I was young and impressionable back in 1996 or maybe I've turned into a grumpy old man - either way, what I found to be beautiful and exciting cinema I know find to be boring and pretentious theatre. It's still beautiful visually and the idea is still great, it's just Greenaway is far too indulgent and up his own bottom. Vivian Wu steals the show? What the hell was I thinking?
Down from 4 stars to just 2.
A beautiful woman is obsessed with inking characters on human flesh, making herself and her lovers into living books. Gorgeous and sensual, with layered images and pictures framed inside of other pictures. Greenaway's painterly picture is a loving tribute both to calligraphy and to the nude human form, and the movie would be a classic if only there was a story attached to the sumptuous images.More
Everytime i try to get into this film i encounter a solid wall that won't let me pass. Vivian Wu should be in more movies, naked if possible.More
Discuss The Pillow Book on our Movie forum!