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The Pillow Book (1996)

Not Rated | | Drama | 6 June 1997 (USA)
1:40 | Trailer

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A woman with a body writing fetish seeks to find a combined lover and calligrapher.



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5 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
... Nagiko
... The Publisher
Ken Ogata ... The Father
Hideko Yoshida ... The Aunt / The Maid
... Jerome
Judy Ongg ... The Mother
Ken Mitsuishi ... The Husband
Yutaka Honda ... Hoki
Barbara Lott ... Jerome's Mother
Miwako Kawai ... Young Nagiko
... Jerome's sister (as Lynne Frances Wachendorfer)
Chizuru Ohnishi ... Young Nagiko
Shiho Takamatsu ... Young Nagiko
Aki Ishimaru ... Young Nagiko
Hisashi Hidaka ... Calligrapher


As a young girl in Japan, Nagiko's father paints characters on her face, and her aunt reads to her from "The Pillow Book", the diary of a 10th-century lady-in-waiting. Nagiko grows up, obsessed with books, papers, and writing on bodies, and her sexual odyssey (and the creation of her own Pillow Book) is a "parfait mélange" of classical Japanese, modern Chinese, and Western film images. Written by Michael C. Berch <mcb@postmodern.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


From the creator of The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover comes a sensuous tale of passion, obsession and revenge. See more »




Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:




| | |

Release Date:

6 June 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

O Livro de Cabeceira  »

Filming Locations:



Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$105,922, 8 June 1997, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$2,293,037, 17 August 1997
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.75 : 1
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Did You Know?


Much of the film is in Japanese, and some of the English subtitles appear to be intentionally incorrect or missing, in the spirit of "language play" or "the Tower of Babel". (Confirmed by director Peter Greenaway at a talk at the San Francisco Film Festival.) See more »


Mike visible during wide shot when Nagiko kneels and Jerome signs his name on her back. 01:03:59 into the film on PAL DVDs. See more »


Nagiko: Anything coloured Indigo is splendid; Indigo coloured flowers, Indigo thread, and especially indigo paper.
See more »


extract from The Frist String Quartet "La Theorie"
Written by Walter Hus
Performed by Quadro Quartet
Courtesy of Het Gerucht / Uncle Dan's
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User Reviews

Intriguing if one likes Film Art...
9 August 2001 | by See all my reviews

First of all, let me make one thing clear:

This is not a "movie," not in the normal sense of the word. This is FILM ART. There is a massive difference between the two, and it effects the review of this film.

If viewed as a movie, this film is pretentious, over-visualized, non-plotted...and VERY slow and boring. Nagiko is not a character to be sympathized with (at least not until the very, very, VERY last moments in the film), and all the other characters have no history or background to make them indentifyable by the viewer. Jerome is eye-catching, but not extremely interesting, despite the fine acting of Ewan MacGregor. The fault is not in the actors--it is the script. The viewer is given no reasons to feel anything besides erotisism for the two characters and their plotting together. One is merely thrown into their story, and who can really care for a nit-wit of a girl with a fettish for body art, or a man who is overly vain, sells himself for what he wants, and basically plays games with the people he loves? Alright, there is some sort of interest in the morbid or perverse sense, but beyond that base type of curiousity, there is nothing more involving. In terms of storywritting, this film is absolutely terrible. In many moments, one feels like one is watching glorified porn.


As film art, "The Pillow Book" was stunning. The visuals are AMAZING. There is so much beauty in the making of this film, running from the sound of running water to the wonder of the human form. The non-linear aspect of the film gives it a dreamy and surreal quality, as well as a suprising sense of wonder.

There is a sheer erotisism to the film, but it is conveyed (for the most part) in a beautiful and "clean" sort of way. It makes even the minute detail, such as a caligraphy brush or a button, a sensual work of art. Mere "scribbling" becomes astounding and moving--such as the Lord's Prayer written upon Nagiko's body.

The film also includes a cold sense of revenge by way of the Publisher. One can't but feel gleefully satisfied that the man gets what he rightly deserves. And one can almost touch the peace that Nagiko gains for herself in the end.

Now, there are many other messages to be garnered from the film, such as the woman's liberation aspect portrayed, but in this I believe that such musings come almost totally from the mind of the viewer and the associations thereof...many could totally miss such messages in the overwhelming depth of sensuality displayed. Sometimes, a film is just a film; don't give it credit for messages that don't exist. It may be that the director had nothing of the sort in mind. If anything, give it credit for evoking the thoughts from your own mind.

All in all, visually stunning and emotionally evoking...as a work of art. As a story however...it is a dismal failure.

But it is at least worth seeing. Once.

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