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The Pillow Book

3.8 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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(Dec 15, 1998)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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

Special Features

  • Note: Because this movie was originally shot using various aspect ratios, the proportions of the screen image will change periodically throughout the movie, preserving the film's original theatrical experience for your home

Product Details

  • Actors: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Ken Ogata, Hideko Yoshida, Yoshi Oida
  • Directors: Peter Greenaway
  • Format: Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: Japanese (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround)
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Columbia Tristar Home Video
  • DVD Release Date: December 15, 1998
  • Run Time: 126 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: 0767819772
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,740 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Pillow Book" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L. Young on June 19, 2001
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
After reading the previous review I had to post a review of this movie so that people will not be mislead. Although I am quite willing to admit my ignorance of Asian art, whether Chinese, Japanese or other, I think this movie can be enjoyed on its own terms. Although the Pillowbook was confusing and disjointed to me at times, it was also intriguing and beautiful. For the previous reviewer to claim that all the characters acted in a monotone is simply untrue. Vivian Wu gave a subtle, nuanced and deeply emotional performance, and Ewan McGregor was wonderful as Jerome. Far from acting in a monotone, McGregor played Jerome with an infectious sense of fun during the early stages of his and Nagiko's relationship. Later, when Nagiko rejects him, his agony is vividly expressed and quite palpable. Additionally, to reduce this subtle and intense movie to "a fetish for naked Asian men" is patently unfair. There is nudity in the film, (although primarily of Wu and McGregor, neither of whom is an Asian man), but it is very tastefully done and relevant to the plot. In conclusion I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys subtle and visually beautiful films. However, if you require lot's of special effects, explosions and action in a film, this is not the movie for you.
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: DVD
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.
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Format: VHS Tape
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.
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