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The Pillow Book (1996)

Things that make the heart beat faster.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 122 minutes

UK Certificate: 18


Vivian Wu stars as Nagiko, a beautiful Japanese girl who is the daughter of a writer. When she was a little girl, on each of her birthdays her father would paint a ritual greeting on her face and sign the back of her neck. These experiences have a great impact on Nagiko as she grows up. As a young woman she has ambitions to be a published writer like her father, but is so far unsuccessful. She retains her love of calligraphy on skin, and seeks relationships with those who are both lovers and calligraphers. She finds that it is hard to find partners who are successful at both, until she meets the sensual Jerome (Ewan McGregor), a young English translator.

Jerome is the lover of the publisher (Yoshi Oida) who betrayed Nagiko's father. Jerome can write in four languages, although his calligraphy leaves something to be desired. However, he has a different suggestion for Nagiko – that she should write on him instead. They become lovers, and she writes a beautiful book on his skin for him to take to the publisher, the first book of a series. But Jerome betrays her trust with his old lover, and starts a sequence of events that will result in jealousy, tragedy and revenge.

'The Pillow Book' is one of director Peter Greenaway's most accessible and mature works to date. Notorious for his highly artistic but daring and often experimental approach to filmmaking, audiences usually either adore or hate his work with no middle ground. Even his fans will admit that they haven't necessarily liked everything he has created. On this occasion, however, he has made a film that will appeal to many while avoiding too much commercialism. The film looks great, although it does require some concentration to really appreciate it. Vivian Wu is a wonderful Nagiko, but the real honours go to Ewan McGregor. Jerome is a challenging role to play involving full frontal nudity and erotic scenes with both men and women, and once again McGregor demonstrates to his credit that as a young actor he was not afraid to take a risk on a dangerous role.

It's Got: Some of the most interesting cinematography of recent years.

It Needs: A great deal of concentration to be really enjoyed.

DVD Extras Just a trailer with this basic FilmFour release. DVD Extras Rating: 1/10


This stunning and exotic story of love, death and immortality is amongst director Peter Greenaway's better work.