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House of Sleeping Beauties

Style is all in "House of Sleeping Beauties," a work of pristine visual elegance and emotional restraint that hides a deeply melodramatic story at its core. Despite implausibilities that take some swallowing, this echt-Japanese study of sexual obsession could win some friends on the festival circuit and be snapped up by specialized webs. Story centers on the Eguchi family, whose head, music prof Yoshio (Yoshio Harada), hears from a group of friends about the House of Sleeping Beauties, a modern geisha joint where you can lie alongside (but never touch) a naked young woman in a drugged sleep. The clientele are exclusively aging men who are impotent; one of Yoshio's drinking group, Kobayashi, recently died of a heart attack there.

With:
Yoshio Eguchi ..... Yoshio Harada Kikuko Eguchi ..... Yuka Oonishi Yasuko Eguchi ..... Kazuko Yoshiyuki Shuichi Eguchi ..... Masayuki Shida Fukura ..... Hiroyuki Nagati Kiga ..... Yoshiyuki Fukuda Kobayashi ..... Toshiro Ishido Matsuko ..... Haruko Wanibuchi

Yoshio eventually visits the place, while at home he begins to have stirrings for his daughter-in-law, Kikuko (Yuka Oonishi), whom he accidentally sees naked in the shower one day. Kikuko has her own emotional problems: Adopted at birth, and seemingly unable to have children, she’s sexually estranged from her husband, Shuichi, and turns a blind eye to the affair he is having with another woman. She’s drawn to Yoshio as both a father figure and as a man.

To force the issue, Kikuko convinces the house’s owner, Matsuko, to let her stand in for one of the girls when Yoshio next comes visiting. But the two end up having sex, and Kikuko gets pregnant. If that’s not enough, Yoshio then hears some startling news from a doctor friend.

The chain of coincidences and web of passions are more reminiscent of a romance novel, but director Hiroto Yokoyama (“Jun”) mounts the picture with such

finesse and precision — and, in the early stages, a tantalizing feeling that more is happening offscreen than on — that it’s not till you leave the theater that the implausibilities strike home.

As the white-haired professor, Harada is fine, if never plumbing any great depths of acting, and Oonishi is notably cute as Kikuko. Technical credits are immaculate, adding to the pic’s simmering eroticism.

House of Sleeping Beauties

Japanese

Production: A Hiroto Yokoyama Prods./TV Tokyo/Triarts production, in association with Koizumi Jimusho, Wani Books and Production EFU. (International sales: Hiroto Yokoyama Prod., Saitama, Japan.) Produced by Akira Oda, Katsuhiko Aoki, Naotake Kobayashi, Shunichi Koizumi, Toshio Kanda, Masaaki Yokouchi. Directed by Hiroto Yokoyama. Screenplay, Toshiro Ishido, based on the novel by Yasunari Kawabata.

Crew: Camera (color), Yoshimasa Hakata; editor, Keiichi Uraoka; music, Teizo Matsumura; art direction, Tsutomu Imamura, Hidetaka Ozawa; sound, Hisayuki Miyamoto. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 21, 1997. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Yoshio Eguchi ..... Yoshio Harada Kikuko Eguchi ..... Yuka Oonishi Yasuko Eguchi ..... Kazuko Yoshiyuki Shuichi Eguchi ..... Masayuki Shida Fukura ..... Hiroyuki Nagati Kiga ..... Yoshiyuki Fukuda Kobayashi ..... Toshiro Ishido Matsuko ..... Haruko Wanibuchi

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