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United Kingdom 1996
Directed by
Peter Greenaway
121 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

The Pillow Book

Referring to a 1,000-year-old manuscript, The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, which dealt among other things with the arts of love. Peter Greenaway’s  follow-up to the deservedly  ill-received The Baby Of Mâcon (1993) is a sophisticated piece of visual artistry, in which the director has at last found a compelling vehicle for his convoluted layerings of word and image as well as his typically English voyeuristic impulses.

Vivian Wu plays Nagiko, a young woman following in the footsteps of her calligrapher father (Ken Ogata), who identifies her art with her search for sexual fulfilment. She flees Japan for Hong Kong where she takes a British lover (a well-hung but somewhat awkward Ewan McGregor) and he offers his body as a palimpsest for her work, thus combining her two compulsions.

Once again, Greenaway’s long-standing photographer Sach Vierny produces superb visuals and the minimalism of Japanese aesthetics serves its audience better than the Baroque art which over-stuffs so many of the director’s less satisfying films. This and, the mis-casting of Ewan McGregor aside, the fact that Greenaway actually gives us a story of some poignancy makes The Pillow Book a welcome addition to a body of work that too often strikes art-school poses. 

DVD Extras: None.

Available in an Umbrella Entertainment’s 8 disc box set that also includes A Draughtman’s Contract, A Zed & Two Noughts, Drowning By Numbers, Prospero's Books, The Baby Of Mâcon, 8 ½ Women and a 1992 documentary on the director and his work.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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