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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 9 August 2005
I didn't check the aspect ratio (4:3!) when I bought the DVD. I had it already on tape, and the copy kept the original ratio. How can anybody do such a stupid thing as cutting off the edges of a film that is all about frames and pictorical composition? The film, originally, is a masterpiece.
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VINE VOICEon 10 May 2011
Watching this Blu-Ray i the first time I have seen this film. In a sense, it's 'typical' Greenaway. Each shot is beautifully composed (less formally than some other films) but it also draws from his 1990s video works, such as Peter Greenaway's A TV Dante: The Inferno Cantos I-VIII [DVD] in the way it has frame-within-a-frame effects. Despite its unconventional appearance, the plot is linear and pretty simple to follow.

The film itself deals with obsession, calligraphy, nakedness, revenge and poetry. It is part in Japanese (with subtitles) and part English. Most of the enjoyment for me came in the dazzlingly creative way the story was told rather than the story itself, and perhaps that is the 'message' here.

The only extras on the disc are the theatrical trailer (in poor quality) and a photo gallery.

Previous DVDs have sparked controversy over their aspect ratios. While IMDB lists this film as 1.75:1, it is presented here in 1.33:1 (4:3). This is an unusual format for the cinema these days, but nothing appeared to be cropped. Images in the film itself vary from widescreen to full frame, and are often overlaid meaning that transferring in anything other than 1.33:1 would not be feasible. (Darwin is also in variable aspect ratio, as it is panned and scanned.) I suspect this film was shot on film (Super 35) then edited on video, which at that time would have been in 1.33:1. Having said that, the trailer is in 1.75:1.

Picture quality is good but not amazing, again probably a symptom of the mid-90s video technology used in production.

Overall, this is a feast for the eyes and a must for anyone with an interest in Greenaway. If the aspect ratio is wrong, it is at least not a significant hindrance to enjoyment.
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on 2 April 2007
Highly aesthetic and cryptic film, my favourite Greenaway. To be felt rather than logically analysed, it is a matter of acquired taste.
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on 8 October 2016
Very good.
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on 14 November 2002
I happen to be a great admirer of the controversial Mr Greenaway. I think his direction in film is bold and produces powerful results. The Pillow Book is a great example of this talent. It is an amazing combination of his narrative technique, experimental explorations and talent for finding compelling stories. The images are beautiful, especially the shot of Vivian Wu standing in the rain covered with writing on her flesh which slowly melts away. Her character is not that complex, but the action of the story is sufficient to carry her along throughout the tale as she fights for independence and a suitable form of artistic expression. Essentially the story is about the fetishisation of books and sex. These things are enough to make a great movie in my mind. Nagiko is a girl who goes through a ritual where her father writes on her back on her birthday as he tells her of a myth. After burning her way out of a suffocating marriage, she grows up to become a radical artist writing on bodies and searching for a man who can replace her father in the birthday tradition. She meets a talented man named Jerome who she falls in love with, but is eventually sacrificed to her father's old enemy. In the course of the narrative she writes her own Pillow Book on a series of men. It culminates in a gruesome act of jealousy and revenge (a notion not foreign to Greenaway's narratives).
Some emotionally intense scenes are made particularly powerful with the screen-in-screen shots because it shows at one time the levels between thought and action, self-perception and actual action. This is a new style for Greenaway that works tremendously well in this movie because it fits so perfectly with the egotism and self-obsession of the characters involved. The movie as a whole is a powerful evocation of a great Japanese classic. I highly recommend this movie who is in the mood to watch something eccentric, visually moving and stunningly beautiful.
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on 30 October 2016
Difficult to follow and therefore only gets a low mark from me.
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on 12 January 2013
The images are very beautiful. However, there is a real problem with the subtitles. Greenaway was very involved in the creation of the subtitles for this film: he used a specific font and the subtitles were supposed to be incorporated in the image, at particular places and moments. But I was very shoked to see that in this DVD, Greenaways' subtitles had been simply erased and replaced with classic subtitles, normal font, etc. I think it's a shame; it is a betrayal of the director's views.
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on 19 August 2016
Slightly broken case, disc is pristine though
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A lot of people have commented (not just here) about the aspect ratio of this DVD, 4:3?!

It does seem a shame, unless it was done for artistic reasons...

...The film makes use of many `picture in picture' scenes, where you'll see a scene playing within a box in another scene. Maybe the 4:3 aspect ratio is to ensure that these were viewed with good fidelity to the original.

The subject of the film isn't an easy one to follow, but if you stick with it then it stands a good chance of charming you over. The 18 certificate is mainly a reaction to the nudity and sex in the film. The sex though, isn't explicit, and the nudity is done in a beautiful way and is in no way `sexualised'. The film has many surprises, and even though you know Ewan McGregor is in it, it still takes you back when such a familiar face (and voice) appears in a film which often feels far distanced from real life.

The `surprise' of Ewan McGregor is essential for this film - he brings with him an energy which lacks, up to his arrival. The chemistry between Jerome (McGregor) and Nagiko (Viv Wu) crackles on screen and if it weren't for this then the film would be lacklustre.

The film deals with interesting themes, such as the feeling of being an outsider when surrounded by a culture different to the one you were brought up in. It looks at the love of literature combined with physical pleasure. But the clever use of visuals sometimes takes away from the essence of the film so that you're left trying to watch several scenes at once and don't get the full effect of either - they're meant to complement, but they often cloud.

In a nutshell: This is a great film dogged with two many clever ideas. It felt disjointed for me, I never felt as absorbed as I could have been. The acting was great, the internet seems to have lots of sites which sensationalise the fact that you see Ewan McGregors penis a fair old bit, but the film manages this brilliantly and it always seems natural - you don't get shocked by McGregor's ol'fella. This is worth a watch, but it won't be a prized member of my DVD collection.
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on 14 September 2000
This is a fantastic DVD, the sounds and picture quality are great. However, the movie contains many pictures within pictures (like windows on a computer screen) that looked fantastic on the big screen but many of these smaller pictures have been awkwardly cut off for the DVD version. It's a shame. The movie is still great and worth watching. And Greenaway outdoes himself for coming up with something even creepier than the 'buffet' scene from Thief, Cook, Wife and her Lover.
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