Peter Greenaway directed this elliptical and visually intricate tale of the far side of erotic and intellectual attraction. As a girl, Nagiko would receive a special gift each year from her father: a calligrapher (Ken Ogata) who would carefully paint a poem on her face, as her aunt (Hideko Yoshida) read aloud from The Pillow Book, a classic Japanese text on the art of love. As Nagiko (Vivian Wu) reached adulthood, her father insisted on putting a stop to this ritual, and he persuaded her to marry the nephew of his publisher (Ken Mitsuishi). But Nagiko is not satisfied with her husband, and after finding success as a model, she seeks a lover who will indulge her fondness for literature by writing verse on her naked body. In time, she finds happiness with a British expatriate named Jerome (Ewan McGregor), who persuades her to use his body as paper for her poetry, but the interference of her father's publisher (Yoshi Oida) gives their relationship a tragic turn. Greenaway deliberately mistranslated some of the French and Japanese dialogue for The Pillow Book, hoping that the occasionally fractured language would give the film a "Tower of Babel" quality. ~ Mark Deming, All Movie Guide
The Pillow Book is a 1996 film by United Kingdom director Peter Greenaway, which stars Vivian Wu as Nagiko, a Japanese model in search of pleasure and new cultural experience from various lovers. The film is a rich and artistic melding of dark modern drama with idealized Chinese and Japanese cultural themes and settings, and centers around body painting (several scenes of which include full-frontal nudity).
It co-stars Ewan McGregor as Jerome, an English translator who becomes Nagiko's favourite lover. Greenaway also wrote the screenplay, in addition to directing. The film was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.