The Pillow Book

June 6, 1997 0 By Fans
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Still of Ewan McGregor in The Pillow Book


As a young girl in Japan, Nagiko's father paints characters on her face, and her aunt reads to her from "The Pillow Book"…

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 6.5/10 (7,781 voted)

Critic's Score: 64/100

Peter Greenaway

Stars: Vivian Wu, Ewan McGregor, Yoshi Oida

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.

Writers: Sei Shonagon, Peter Greenaway


Vivian Wu


Yoshi Oida

The Publisher

Ken Ogata

The Father

Hideko Yoshida

The Aunt
The Maid

Ewan McGregor


Judy Ongg

The Mother

Ken Mitsuishi

The Husband

Yutaka Honda


Barbara Lott

Jerome's Mother

Miwako Kawai

Young Nagiko

Lynne Langdon

Jerome's sister

(as Lynne Frances Wachendorfer)

Chizuru Ohnishi

Young Nagiko

Shiho Takamatsu

Young Nagiko

Aki Ishimaru

Young Nagiko

Hisashi Hidaka


Things that make the heart beat faster.

Release Date: 6 June 1997

Filming Locations: Hong Kong, China

Opening Weekend: $105,922
(8 June 1997)
(7 Screens)

Gross: $2,293,037
(17 August 1997)

Technical Specs


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.)


Boom mic visible:
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.


His writing – in so many languages – made me a sign-post pointing east, west, north and south. I had shoes in German, stockings in French, gloves in Hebrew, a hat with a veil in Italian. He only kept me naked where I was most accustomed to wearing clothes.

User Review



God, what words to use when trying to describe this film!!! Exotic,
erotic??? Those are obvious choices that pop right up. Quite a bit of this
film is spoken in Japanese, and I usually hate films with subtitles, yet I
loved THE PILLOW BOOK. It is sensual, delicate and beautifully executed. The
music is mysterious and sexy. The way it is filmed is pure art, like the
unfolding of the pages of the book it's about. Nagiko (Vivian Wu) is trying
to publish a book written in caligraphy but is rejected. Looking for someone
with perfect skin, she decides to use the method of writing her caligraphy
onto human skin the way her father did when she was a girl. There is plenty
of naked Ewan McGregor to behold, and he gives a fine…ahem…acting
performance also!!! Of course this film won't appeal to just anyone, but if
you're in the mood for a visually striking, colorful, cultural piece of art
film, try this one out.