Review: The Pillow Book
Blu-ray: The Pillow Book (1996)
Peter Greenaway is well known as a golden director of languid art house movies that enrapture the viewer with their colour, emotion and exceptional mise en scène. The Pillow Book tells the story of Nagiko (Vivian Wu) who becomes obsessed with writing in all its forms after her father (Ken Ogata) writes on her face and body characters of good fortune for her birthday year after year, while her aunt reads a list of ‘beautiful things’ from Sei Shonagon’s “Pillow Book” (which is what a lady’s private diary was called in ancient Asian culture).
It is after this writing ceremony that a young Nagiko sees her father being sodomised by his publisher, as payment for publishing his writings. Well at least that’s what it looked like, as much like the rest of the narrative, it’s attempt at being arty for art’s sake just leads the viewer to complete confusion.
We follow Nagiko’s story as she (possibly) becomes a supermodel (she’s definitely rich) and goes through a succession of lovers, all of whom write on her, unsatisfactorily, until she meets Ewan MacGregor.
Ewan was 25 when he made this and it’s pretty obvious he couldn’t believe his luck as he has this constant shit-eating grin on his face, as not only is he in a Peter Greenaway film, but he gets to pretend shag a hot woman (a lot) with his knob out (a lot). He also gets to shag the publisher. Yes, the publisher who is now an old man and was shagging Nagiko’s dad.
It’s all very convoluted, and unfortunately, despite it being a very beautiful looking film, it’s very boring. I’d even go so far to say that it’s so far up its own artistic arse, there’s no sunlight. I lost total interest in its self centered characters and displaced time line. It’s all fluff and no substance.
So here’s a suggestion, if you want to watch a really GOOD Peter Greenaway film, try The Draughtsman’s Contract (or The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover).
INDICATOR LIMITED EDITION BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES:
- High Definition remaster
- Original stereo audio
- Selected scenes commentary with Peter Greenaway (2015, 38 mins)
- The Book of the Editor (2020, 27 mins): editor Chris Wyatt recalls his work with Greenaway
- Rosa (1992, 16 mins): performance film by Anne Teresa De Keersmaker’s Rosas dance company, directed by Peter Greenaway and shot by Sacha Vierny, newly restored from the original negative by Belgium’s Cinematek
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- Original theatrical trailer
- Original theatrical calligraphic subtitle presentation
- New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Limited edition exclusive 40-page booklet with a new essay by Adam Scovell, Peter Greenaway on The Pillow Book, excerpts from Greenaway’s 26 Facts About Flesh and Ink and the original press book, an overview of contemporary critical responses, Anthony Nield on Rosa, Bruno Mestdagh on restoring Rosa, and film credits
- Limited edition of 3,000 copies
Review by Tina from a disc kindly supplied by Powerhouse Films.
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