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MOVIE REVIEW : DELICATE YOSHINAGA, BLOODY ‘HEAVEN’

Times Staff Writer

Like Italy’s lush Laura Antonelli, Japan’s more delicate Sayuri Yoshinaga is a producer’s dream, an actress who can convey sexual abandon and still seem a lady.

Last seen in Kon Ichikawa’s superb “Ohan” as an exploited geisha, Yoshinaga is now on view in “Station to Heaven” (at the Kokusai) as the most fatale of femmes . Would that Ichikawa had also directed Akira Hayasaka’s progressively delirious screenplay, which repeats the old sex/death equation to the point of morbidity. It desperately needs Ichikawa’s deliciously dark humor to save it from finally seeming merely silly. (Not helping matters is its clunky, suspense-destroying flashback construction.)

Not since Theda Bara has a woman proved so deadly to the men--and women, too--who cross her path, but director Masanobu Deme takes his heroine (who tells us at the bloody finish that all along she’s only been seeking true love) and her mind-boggling story so totally seriously that “Station to Heaven” goes quickly over the top. Of the breathtakingly complicated and lurid plot, which quickly starts piling up the corpses, it suffices to say that it’s set in motion by Yoshinaga’s poisoning of her hateful husband (Kazuo Nakamura), an impotent cripple devoted to making her life as miserable as his.

“Station to Heaven"--that curious title would require more explaining than the film deserves--is clearly a work of the utmost commitment, and Deme has certainly persuaded his cast to go along with him. Yoshinaga is required mainly to be a passive detonator, her beauty a curse to herself and everyone else who seems to be driven mad by it. But the men in her life are played impressively, especially by Masahiko Tsugawa as her virile second spouse and by Toshiyuki Nishida as the retarded, half-blind oaf who loves her most purely.

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Filmed primarily in rural areas under snow, “Station to Heaven” (Times-rated Mature for adult themes and situations) has its every gorgeous image so precisely composed that they seem overly studied. The exteriors are particularly beautiful, arrangements in black, white and gray, relieved in one scene with the slash of a red bridge but more often with spilling blood. There’s been no lack of caring here, just a disastrous loss of perspective.

‘STATION TO HEAVEN’

A Toei presentation. Producer Yusuke Okada. Director Masanobu Deme. Screenplay Akira Hayasaka. Camera Masahiko Iimura. Lighting Yoshio Kobayashi. Music Kazuhiko Kato. Art director Shuji Nakamura. With Sayuri Yoshinaga, Toshiyuki Nishida, Kazuo Nakamura, Masahiko Tsugawa, Yomokazu Miura, Tetsuro Tamba, Kimie Shingyoji, Tatsuye Fukumi. In Japanese, with English subtitles.

Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes. Times-rated: Mature.

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