FILM/TV

REVIEW- A Lost Anime Gem Returns w/ Belladonna of Sadness

0 Comments 12 May 2016

belladonna of sadness

The never-before-released anime masterpiece Belladonna of Sadness at last surfaces with a 4k restoration and screenings all thru May at The Cinefamily.

By Daniel Barron

 

Die-hard animation fans of the 80s and 90s remember a period when acquiring anime and film and TV properties often meant deep diving into bootlegs, conventions, and rare revival screenings. Today, the chasm between casual fans and lifers has considerably narrowed, as many anime series can be streamed day-and-date with their Japanese airings. But one significant work has spent over forty years without a proper North American release, and thanks to Cinelicious Pics can at last be given its Stateside due.
Directed by veteran animator Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973’s surreal, erotic Belladonna of Sadness was the third in a planned “Animerama” trilogy of adult-oriented features that Yamamoto was slated to co-direct with “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka, the pioneer behind Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. The film’s decidedly European aesthetic is rendered primarily through static watercolor compositions that recall the works of painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, all brought to life through a groovy, much sought-after psych-rock score by jazz composer Masahiko Satoh. It was the only feature from the project that Tezuka did not eventually write or direct and was met with commercial failure, leading studio Mushi Productions to bankruptcy and becoming their final release. Outside of a handful of festival screenings Belladonna of Sadness has been unavailable for viewing in the US, but with a crisp 4k restoration, remixed sound, and over eight minutes of censored footage there has never been a better time to discover it.
Set in medieval France, the film opens with peasant couple Jean and Bardot-like Jeanne enraptured in the bloom of new love. Their marital bliss is quickly shattered after the local lord violently rapes her on their wedding night. Jean wants them to forget and do their best to move on. Jeanne is tempted in the night by the Devil himself, intially characterized in a miniature, comically phallic form.
The lord’s assault on Jeanne- portrayed in the abstract- nevertheless packs a punch. It is illustrative of two things: One, that despite its age and stylization the film still has the power to shock. Two, that the tableau nature of the film’s frames will be liberated in moments of extreme cruelty or ecstasy. Within the the limited resources avilable to the animation team, color and motion are used strategically to punctuate outsized emotions. The image may often be still but few will complain that it lacks kineticism.
The people of the village face greater hardship as famine strikes and the lord increases taxes to fund his war efforts. Jean becomes the scorn of his neighbors after being appointed tax collector, tensions rise within the home, and eventually, Jeanne must form a pact with The Devil so that she can be reborn as a black-robed vision of desire. Her dark powers become the source of a revolution against the oppresive feudalist state.
To describe more would be a disservice to the film, which- like its heroine- requires an act of submission on the part of the viewer. Blending the visual language of pop art, tarot card imagery, fashion illustration, agitprop iconography into a kaleidoscopic swirl, Belladonna of Sadness is as “you had to be there” as any LSD trip, better felt than intellectualized. Not that the material is completely without mental fiber. The story draws from French historian Jules Michelet’s non-fiction book Satanism and Witchcraft, with some of the dialogue between Jeanne and The Devil lifted almost directly from the page. Michelet framed witchcraft as a kind of proto-feminism against male authority. Whether Yamamoto’s interpretation of the text is empowering or retrograde (anime is not a medium known for its poltical correctness) is debatable.
Wherever you fall on that spectrum, Belladonna of Sadness remains a visonary work whose poisoned soul explores the boundaries of what animation can be. It belongs in the conversation alongside other cult explorations in the medium such as Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and the films of Ralph Bakshi. The official Los Angeles premiere is tonight at The Cinefamily in West Hollywood, where it will play throughout the rest of the month to promote the release of a lavish new art book and Blu-Ray set. For anime fans, it’s a fine display of a lost relic, and for those who appreciate adventurous cinema in general it’s a rabbit hole worth spelunking.

 

 

belladonna of sadness

Original

 

belladonna of sadness

Restored

 

belladonna of sadness

Original

 

belladonna of sadness

Restored

 

belladonna of sadness

Original

 

belladonna of sadness

Restored

 

The film’s trailer:

 

Belladonna of Sadness has its LA premiere at The Cinefamily on Thursday, May 12th and runs thru the 19th. Purchase tickets for screenings HERE.

Keep updated on screenings and events on Cinefamily website.

Follow The Cinefamily on Twitter and Instagram.

“Like” The Cinefamily on Facebook.

 

belladonna of sadness

Print Friendly

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments

Author

- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

Contact the author

Share your view

Post a comment

© 2017 Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine. Powered by WordPress.

Daily Edition Theme by WooThemes - Premium WordPress Themes