Nagiko’s father was a calligrapher, and when she was a little girl he would write his birthday greetings on her face. Her mother would read aloud from a 1,000-year-old manuscript, (italics) The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon, (unital) which dealt among other things with the arts of love. Because children invest their birthdays with enormous importance, it’s no wonder that when Nagiko grows up she finds a powerful link between calligraphy, human flesh, poetry, and sexuality.
Peter Greenaway, born in Australia, long working in England, is not so far from Nagiko himself. His films also work by combining images, words, quotations and sexual situations. He uses the screen as Nagiko uses flesh, finding an erotic charge not just in the words, but in the surface they are written on, His new film “The Pillow Book,” starring Vivian Wu (from “The Last Emperor”), is a seductive and elegant story that combines a millennium of Japanese art and fetishes with the story of a neurotic modern woman who tells a lover: “Treat me like the pages of a book.” Early in Nagiko’s life, she sees something she was not intended to see: Her father’s publisher (Yoshi Oida), forcing her father (Ken Ogata) to have sex as the price of getting a book published. On another occasion, when she is 6 or 7, she is introduced to the publisher’s 10-year-old nephew, and told this will be her future husband. These events set up fundamental tensions in her life, and as an adult, unhappily married to the publisher’s nephew, she begins keeping her own pillow book. The nephew (Ken Mitsuishi) is a shallow dolt, who finds her book and in a jealous rage burns her papers and then their house. Read More »