The Pillow Book

Critics Consensus

The Pillow Book is undeniably sensual and visually ravishing, but the film's narrative lacks the hypnotic pull of its imagery.



Total Count: 53


Audience Score

User Ratings: 13,209
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Movie Info

The erotic exploits of a Japanese woman with an obsession for body writing provides the basis of this exotic, intellectually challenging and lushly executed drama from one of Britain's most off-beat filmmakers Peter Greenaway. Beautiful Nagiko was born and raised in Kyoto to a professional calligrapher and struggling writer. For each birthday, her father would spend much time tenderly painting birthday wishes on Nagiko's face as she listened to her aunt read from classic Japanese 10th-century writer Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book. For Nagiko, this birthday ritual was indescribably tender and erotic, but when she turned 18, her father would no longer do it, instead insisting that she marry his homosexual publisher's nephew. It is an unhappy union, not helped by Nagiko's obsession to become a writer like Shonagon. One day her spouse finds her writings and destroys them. In anger she abandons him and moves to Hong Kong where she becomes a fashion model. There Nagiko begins making love to a calligraphers willing to write on her naked body. She moves from one to the other searching for the one who will finally satisfy her, but has no luck until she encounters Jerome, an Englishman, who asks her to write her stories upon his body. When she finishes, she takes the naked Jerome to her father's publisher who is aroused by the Englishman and eventually becomes his lover. Nagiko is devastated and her ensuing jealousy spawns only tragedy. The film features considerable, explicit female and male nudity.


Vivian Wu
as Nagiko
Ken Ogata
as The Father
Yoshi Oida
as The Publisher
Hideko Yoshida
as The Aunt / The Maid
Judy Ongg
as The Mother
Ken Mitsuishi
as The Husband
Barbara Lott
as Jerome's Mother
Miwako Kawai
as Young Nagiko
Chizuru Ohnishi
as Young Nagiko
Shiho Takamatsu
as Young Nagiko
Aki Ishimaru
as Young Nagiko
Hisashi Hidaka
as Calligrapher
Dehong Chen
as Calligrapher
Akihiro Nishida
as Calligrapher
Kentaro Matsuo
as Calligrapher
Chau Lam
as Intruder
Nguyen Duc Nhan
as Calligrapher
Augusto Aristotle
as Calligrapher
Roger To Thanh Hien
as Calligrapher
Chris Bearne
as Calligrapher
Wichert Dromkert
as The Book of the Innocent
Martin Tukker
as The Book of the Idiot
Wu Wei
as The Book of Old Age
Tom Kane
as The Book of the Exhibitionist
Kheim Lam
as The Book of the Seducer
Daishi Hori
as The Book of Youth
Kinya Tsuruyama
as The Book of Secrets
Eiichi Tanaka
as The Book of the Betrayer
Rick Waney
as The Book of Silence
Masaru Matsuda
as The Book of Birth & Beginnings
Hidashi Hidaka
as Calligrapher
Wataru Murofushi
as The Book of the Dead
Ryuko Azuma
as Grandmother
Yoshihiko Nagata
as Husband's Friend
Atsushi Miura
as Husband's Friend
Kazushi Ishimaru
as Baby Nagiko
Hikari Abe
as Nagiko's Baby
Ai Kanafuji
as Nagiko's Friend
Yoshino Yoshioka
as Nagiko's Friend
Yuki Nou
as Nagiko's Friend
Masami Nishio
as Nagiko's Friend
Satomi Kimura
as Nagiko's Friend
Michiko Matsuo
as Nagiko's Friend
Kintaro Murayama
as Nagiko's Friend
as Model
as Model
Seizo H. Inoue
as 10th Century Man
Yoshihiro Kawai
as 10th Century Man
Munenari Takeshima
as 10th Century Man
Toshio Kimura
as 10th Century Man
Masakazu Takemura
as 10th Century Man
Hiroshi Nakajima
as 10th Century Man
Kageyoshi Shirakata
as 10th Century Man
Takashi Miyake
as 10th Century Man
Hiroko Uno
as 10th Century Woman
Yuko Shimomura
as 10th Century Woman
Kana Haraguchi
as 10th Century Woman
Yuri Inoue
as 10th Century Woman
Makiko Shoji
as 10th Century Woman
Miwako Namie
as 10th Century Woman
Atsuko Nakamura
as 10th Century Woman
Tokiko Horiike
as 10th Century Woman
Akiko Yokotani
as 10th Century Woman
Yasuko Ogawa
as 10th Century Woman
Atsuko Yoshikawa
as 10th Century Woman
Mariko Ajimoto
as 10th Century Woman
Hiromi Tani
as 10th Century Woman
Fukue Kitaoka
as 10th Century Woman
Jim-Adhi Limas
as Man in Lift
Miho Tanaka
as Model Friend in Café Typo
Fabienne De Marco
as Model Friend in Café Typo
Tania De Jaeger
as Model Friend in Café Typo
Lu Jinhua
as Wife of Calligrapher
See Wah Leung
as Intruder
as Intruder
Kumi Komino
as Elderly Secretary
Yuki Hayashi
as Young Female Secretary
Maskai Taketani
as Young Male Secretary
Mr. Lo
as Old Servant
Mrs. Lo
as Servant's Wife
See Yan Leung
as Bookshop Manager
François Van Den Bergen
as Book of Seducer
Hiriko Uno
as 10th Century Woman
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News & Interviews for The Pillow Book

Critic Reviews for The Pillow Book

All Critics (53) | Top Critics (19) | Fresh (35) | Rotten (18)

  • One of the most accomplished chapters in Peter Greenaway's quest to turn movies into books, this may be the writer-director's metaphorical autobiography.

    May 2, 2016 | Full Review…
  • In The Pillow Book, text and texture meet so exquisitely. Sex is a visual art, Greenaway says, and writing is a matter of life and death.

    May 2, 2016 | Full Review…
  • It is exciting that in an age of mass book signings and disrespect for literature, Greenaway is able to sexualize the author's signature as it sweeps up a woman's neck.

    May 2, 2016 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • The Pillow Book is an experiment in the potential of film. It rejects convention and asks the viewer to forget traditions and entrenched assumptions. Those willing to go along will be hypnotized.

    May 2, 2016 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Greenaway is a dedicated aesthete and sensualist who creates his own little worlds of cruelty, delight and artistic trickery. With tremendous brio and skill, he cuts his patterns into our minds, tickling our skins with his brush.

    May 2, 2016 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • I can, with many reservations, recommend The Pillow Book for graphic artists and, of course, for Star Wars completists. People who simply can't get enough nudity might also want to take a look.

    May 2, 2016 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for The Pillow Book

  • May 26, 2011
    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.
    Greg S Super Reviewer
  • Sep 01, 2008
    Greenaway uses groundbreaking effects to showcase his influence in mathematics,fine arts,puzzles,juxtapositions and erotic flavor,thus making a visually titillating film,introspective and with boiling lavishness.
    Dimitris S Super Reviewer
  • Apr 22, 2008
    Well it was different that's for sure.
    jay n Super Reviewer
  • Apr 17, 2008
    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.
    Tsubaki S Super Reviewer

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