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movie and film reviews

Volume 15/Issue 15

Reel to Real
by Chuc LaVenture

The Pillow Book

There are certain movies that need to be seen several times in order to digest everything that is happening. This is one of those movies. A pillow book is, more or less, a diary or journal. Nagiko (Yoshi Oida), as a small girl is read to by her aunt from an ancient pillow book. This particular pillow book was written by a woman who glorified her love of calligraphy and her love of the flesh. Her father, a writer, on her birthday traditionally painted the story of the creation of man on Nagiko's face. Nagiko, after marrying through an arranged marriage, divorces and travels from Japan to Hong Kong where she explores her desire to write, and hides from her ex-husband and family.

Along the way she transfers her desire to write to an eroticized desire to have her body written on. This lasts until she becomes dissatisfied with the quality of the calligraphers/lovers that she has collected. In her search for the perfect calligrapher she meets a translator/writer named Jerome (Ewan MeGregor), who introduces her to the concept of becoming the writer/calligrapher, and using his body. She does not take to the idea, until she writes a book and has it rejected by the same publisher her father had used. The same man who arranged her first marriage and who extorted sexual favors from her father. This is the same man who is the publisher used by Jerome, as well as Jerome's part-time lover.

Nagiko, in order to get her manuscript read and to set the wheels of revenge in motion, arranges to write this manuscript on Jerome's body, so that he might present it to his lover/publisher. Things go a little haywire here. Jerome ends up committing suicide. Nagiko, before Jerome is buried, writes on his body the second of the thirteen books she promised him she would write. The publisher has the body exhumed and, in effect, skins the corpse in order to tan the skin and make a book. Nagiko than uses other men that she thinks will be enticing to the publisher to write the next eleven books.

The movie is cinematically very interesting. I've never seen picture in picture used in a major motion picture, but it is alluring. The film is very dark, in that the colors used are muted, almost as though the film were washed in sepia. The music is unnerving and generally only sung in French. The darkness and the strange score are wonderfully complimentary to the dark subject matters of obsession and eroticism.

As stated, this is a movie that must be seen a few times to finally get it all. I intend to see it a few more times myself. I can't say that I liked the movie, but am unwilling to say that I disliked it either. This is one movie that you will just have to see for yourselves. Should you have comments about the film, I'd love to hear them. You can contact me at It would do me good the hear what others think about this dark and disturbing film.

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