Three experiences make an indelible impression in a young girl's childhood: her father's tender calligraphy on her face and neck, the text of a noblewoman's sensual diary (or pillow book), and the discovery that her father is being blackmailed. These three images become a single obsession when the girl becomes a woman (Vivian Wu of The Joy Luck Club) and meets a man (Trainspotting's Ewan McGregor) who offers his body to her, both as a blank page to write upon and as a weapon of revenge. Beautiful to behold and impossible to forget.
Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover
, Drowning by Numbers
) continues to delight and disturb us with his talent for combining storytelling with optic artistry. The Pillow Book
is divided into 10 chapters (consistent with Greenaway's love of numbers and lists) and is shot to be viewed like a book, complete with tantalizing illustrations and footnotes (subtitles) and using television's "screen-in-screen" technology. As a child in Japan, Nagiko's father celebrates her birthday retelling the Japanese creation myth and writing on her flesh in beautiful calligraphy, while her aunt reads a list of "beautiful things" from a 10th-century pillow book. As she gets older, Nagiko (Vivian Wu) looks for a lover with calligraphy skills to continue the annual ritual. She is initially thrilled when she encounters Jerome (Ewan McGregor), a bisexual translator who can speak and write several languages, but soon realizes that although he is a magnificent lover, his penmanship is less than acceptable. When Nagiko dismisses the enamored Jerome, he suggests she use his flesh as the pages which to present her own pillow book. The film, complete with a musical score as international as the languages used in the narration, is visually hypnotic and truly an immense "work of art." --Michele Goodson