The art aesthetic is all encompassing, there is room in it for every horror, every delight, if the tensions representing these are carried to their furthest perimeters and released in action. –- Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
Ewan McGregor as Jerome in The Pillow Book (1996)
Nagiko in the film The Pillow Book is a hard woman to satisfy. Sexual foreplay for her is contained in the physical act of writing on her skin. But she has grown bored with her lovers because the best calligraphers prove to be less than sexy. Enter Jerome portrayed by the delectable and immensely talented Ewan McGregor. Jerome is a translator who is fluent in at least five languages including Yiddish.
Nagiko is attracted to Jerome, but in some sort of inverse corollary, his calligraphic skills leave much to be desired. But Jerome is more than just a pretty boy, and you know boys will be boys. He suggests Nagiko use his body as her paper: “Use my body like the pages of a book. Of your book!”
This is a bold move by Jerome. He’s basically calling Nagiko out sexually and as a writer. We’re left wondering by her negative reaction as to whether or not she’s for real or whether she’s just a tourist, a poser. Jerome in this film brings a direct energy into the proceedings, that is very focused.He wants his sex, oh yes he does, but he also wants Nagiko to throw down and write, and so she does.
However, as most writers know, rejection is inevitable. Nagiko, a sort of low grade depressive combination of hubris and naiveté, is really freaked when her first manuscript submission to a publisher is rejected, and of course she does what any writer who has lost their mind does –- she goes to the publisher’s house to confront him, and lo and behold it is her father’s publisher and his new lover is Jerome.
Jerome, ever the resourceful Brit consoles Nagiko by again offering his body as paper for her manuscript, assuring her that there is no way the publisher will reject her when Jerome presents her writing on his naked body to his lover. This is where it starts to get messy. Sex, love, literature, revenge, calligraphy, and psychopathy are mixed together like India Speedball Ink only to congeal in the most tragic way.
I’m not going into what happens because it really is beyond the scope of this blog post and I don’t want to spoil the ending of this movie for you because it is a doozey. Suffice it to say, Jerome suffers horribly because Nagiko does not provide him with back-story, and writers there must be a back-story. Nagiko suffers as only the living can, horribly. Even though she becomes a successful writer, there is no joy in it and her life becomes inextricably bound in a psycho-sexual hate-drama with the publisher she believes sexually blackmailed her father.
No field fully loved can be bad for a writer. Only types of self-conscious writing in a field can do great harm. – Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
If not for the veiled sex-abuse at the hands of her father , the hapless lovelorn, cheating, Jerome and the predatory psycho-publisher, Nagiko would never have become a writer, and maybe that would not have been a bad thing for all parties concerned.