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The Pillow Book Review

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Nagiko is inspired by a thousand-year-old Pillow Book to compile her own existential inventories. Out to avenge her author father Nagiko sends his publisher 13 "books" written on the live skin of her lovers

★★★★★

The latest movie from Britain's most cryptic auteur proves, true to form, a tough nut to crack. Peter Greenaway has crafted an esoteric canon of stylised films - from The Draughtsman's Contract to The Baby Of Macon - that trade on wit, technical innovation and his background as a painter. But as he still wears his inaccessibility on his sleeve, you'll come away none the wiser as to what this latest effort is actually getting at.

Here both Greenaway's strengths and weaknesses are on show as he toys with the viewers' capacity to ingest blurring metaphors and convoluted content. Nagiko (Wu) is inspired by a thousand-year-old Pillow Book (a journal penned by a lady-in-waiting that tells of her general love of life), to compile her own existential inventories. Out to avenge her author father, who has paid off his publisher with sexual favours, Nagiko sends the publisher 13 "books" written on the live skin of her lovers - including a Sumo wrestler and a multilingual translator, Jerome (McGregor, cockily wielding calligraphy quills and flashing, full-frontal, his so-called "instrument of pleasure").

The ensuing drama proves to be a sensual affair, awash with broad strokes of archetypal Greenaway symbolism as well as predictable enough bouts of violence. But the skin-as-paper analogies fast wear thin, and the director cuts the audience no slack, not fleshing out the characters or throwing any light on Japanese rites, leaving a muddled riot of ideas.

A muddled riot of ideas as Greenaway stretches his blurring metaphors and convoluted content to extremes.

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