Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster

Things That Make The Heart Beat Faster

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Park Circus 

Release date: May 9th 2011
Certificate (UK): 18
Running time: 122 minutes

Year of production: 1996

Director: Peter Greenaway

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Vivian Wu, Ken Ogata, Yoshi Oida, Hideko Yoshido, Judy Ongg, Yutaka Honda, Ken Mitsuishi, Barbara Lott, Miwako Kawai

Perhaps it’s always been my boyish smile or barely-broken voice but I’ve never been able to convince people of my rightful age. For years this has made everything from buying a bottle of wine to going to the movies as much of a pain as passing through customs at the airport.

Back in 1996 when The Pillow Book first came out, I queued up to see it at a West End cinema and was promptly turned away. A couple of years later when I saw it at my local rental shop on VHS, again, I was turned away and went home with Jerry Maguire (1996) instead!

The Pillow Book

Now at the grand old age of 32 with my hair happily greying at the sides, I’m glad to say I’ve finally been able to see The Pillow Book – a film dutiful members of society have been trying to protect my innocent eyes from!

As a child in Japan in the 1970’s, Nagiko’s father lovingly wrote his daughter’s birthday greeting on her face while her aunt read to her from “The Pillow Book”, the diary of a 10th-century lady-in-waiting. The aunt says to Nagiko:

“Nagiko. When you are twenty-eight years old this book will be exactly a thousand years old. Think of that.”

The Pillow Book

And she did, and always has. As the years pass, that birthday is a memory she holds onto. Now Nagiko (Vivian Wu) is a grown woman and is obsessed with books, papers, and body calligraphy. Nagiko is also haunted by the discovery of her father succumbing to the homosexual advances of his publisher (Yoshi Oida). He demanded favours in return for publishing his work. The publisher would later on become her father-in-law.

The man she’s married to (Ken Mitsuishi) resents her passions and in a fit of rage he sets fire to her own pillow book and their home. Hurt by his actions, she leaves him and Japan and moves to Hong Kong where she goes in search of a writer who will use her whole body as a tabula rasa to write on.

The Pillow Book

Eventually Nagiko meets Jerome (Ewan McGregor), an English translator who turns the tables on her. It’s the first time she becomes the writer, using his slender frame to writer her own stories on. What then follows is how Jerome too falls under the spell of the very same publisher when he shows him what Nagiko has written.

Greenaway presents a film that passionately plays with words both spoken and written. Its dialogue is poetic and reminiscent of many Japanese movies where the words are more sensual than the images are erotic. There are scenes when they flow past on screen and pictures appear within pictures – it feels as times like the film itself is a book and we’re watching and reading as Nagiko and Greenaway turn the pages for us.

Although it begins to get a little bit tedious as we watch Nagiko send one book after the next to the publisher, what remains interesting is what’s on those books and eventually seeing justice, at least in Nagiko’s eyes, come to pass.


  • Trailer
  • Photo Gallery

Park Circus’ restoration is a brand new HD 1080p transfer, picture quality is sharp and the transitions and effects with text look very good.

There isn’t a wealth of special features included as you might expect for a Blu-ray release, this is a slight letdown, but on the other hand it’s the main feature that really matters. Hopefully this opens up the way for another Greenaway Blu-ray release, Prospero’s Books (1991) which I’ve long been hankering for since it’s not even available on DVD.

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