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Friday, Feb. 29, 2008

Calligraphy: brushes with text, ecstasy

Staff writer

Japanese audiences are well acquainted with the films of British director Peter Greenaway. Several have included Japanese characters or been shot in this country, the most prominent of which was "The Pillow Book" (1996) — a very modern interpretation of early 10th-century Japanese diarist Sei Shonagon's personal account of court life at the time.

News photo
Actress Vivian Wu is daubed in artist Brody Neuenschwander's calligraphy in Peter Greenaway's 1996 film "The Pillow Book."

Perhaps the most memorable element of that film, which was complex even by Greenaway's standards, was its use of calligraphy — memorable in particular because it was often written on the beautiful bodies of Vivian Wu and Ewan McGregor.

Now the ginza graphic gallery in Tokyo's Chuo Ward is to host an exhibition, called "Textasy," by the man responsible for turning skin into parchment in "The Pillow Book": Brody Neuenschwander.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Neuenschwander — who studied calligraphy at the Roehampton Institute in London, apprenticed to a professional calligrapher in Britain and devoured everything from the techniques of medieval manuscript illumination to Arabic and Chinese calligraphy — is that he was born in Texas in the United States. A year spent in Germany at age 8 apparently filled him with a love for European calligraphy and art history that has not abated since. Neuenschwander moved to Bruges in Belgium in 1993, and still lives there today.

Highlights from "Textasy" include props from "The Pillow Book," such as the "Book of the Lover," which in Greenaway's fantastical world was supposedly made from Ewan McGregor's lovingly inscribed skin. (A peek at the caption reveals otherwise: sheepskin.) Recently Neuenschwander has branched out into increasingly three-dimensional creations, including large video installations. One of them, "Skin," which conveys a dialogue between two people using text written on their bodies, will form the centerpiece of the exhibition.

Over four days during March, the gallery will hold public screenings of selected Greenaway films, including "The Pillow Book" (3 p.m., March 7 and 8) and a double-header of "Writing on Water" and "Bologna Towers" (2 p.m. and 4 p.m., March 14 and 15). Reservations are essential for the screenings. Admission to screenings and the exhibition, which runs from March 6 till March 31, is free. For more details, call (03) 3571-5206 or visit www.dnp.co.jp/gallery

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