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R: ARCHIVE, S: REVIEWS, D: 06/19/1997,

The Pillow Book

The interplay of the metaphoric and the literal, of artistic form and arbitrary symmetry, might still amuse Peter Greenaway, but for most of the rest of us the game is getting a little old. In The Pillow Book he rehashes the same obsessions he explored more compellingly in The Belly of an Architect and A Zed and Two Naughts, embellishing them with some fancy computer technology and frequent glimpses of up-and-coming star Ewan McGregor's genitalia.

Nagiko (Yoshi Oida), a beautiful young Japanese woman, has this thing about calligraphy; when she was a child her father (Ken Ogata) would celebrate her birthday by writing on her face. She also is preoccupied by The Pillow Book, a novel about the refinements and intrigues of court life written a thousand years before by the courtesan Sei Shonagon. Combining the two fetishes, she writes her own novels on the bodies of her lovers. One of these is Jerome (McGregor), a snooty translator, who also agrees to help her in a vengeance scheme against her father's publisher, who would seal his deals with the author by sodomizing him. For his troubles Jerome ends up much like the last course in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. Purportedly a look at the interconnection of texts and sex, The Pillow Book instead demonstrates a distaste for both. At the Kendall Square.

-- Peter Keough