Now on Blu-ray: Erotic Fantasy BELLADONNA OF SADNESS is Resplendent in HD
A few months ago we reported on the singular animated erotic experience that is Yamamoto Eiichi's Belladonna of Sadness. The film, produced in 1973 as part of the experimental adult animation trilogy Animerama, was one of the most unique cinematic experiences of my year, and I had this to say in my formal review:
[Belladonna of Sadness] is an astounding compendium of off-center animation styles blended with dreamy '70s folk mysticism and Renaissance fair aesthetics that will blow your mind. Whatever you're imagining going into Belladonna of Sadness, you're sure to be surprised at least a half dozen times by the time the credits roll, and that is a joy that has become increasingly rare over the years, and something to cherish.
The story for Belladonna of Sadness stems from a French book by Jules Michelet titled La Sorcière. While in no way a straight adaptation - Michelet's book is non-fiction - Belladonna of Sadness instead adopts the themes and hysteria of the 18th century witchcraft scares into a more sympathetic reading of the way of life associated with sorcerers and sorceresses. Yamamoto's film would take the concept of the tortured woman forced into sorcery as a means of coping with oppression and trauma and retools it as a grand scale rape-revenge fairy tale. While elements of the story feel very familiar, it's the alternately barren and baroque styles of animation that are the true revelations...
...Belladonna of Sadness is the rarest of opportunities, it presents the viewer with a chance to see something that is completely unique and unbridled. This is the work of a filmmaker and team who had a passion for the project that extended beyond a simple desire to tell a story. The sheer sensuality of Belladonna of Sadness and its overwhelming beauty is enough to make one well up with tears.
That's a pretty big excerpt, but it sums up my feelings about the film itself quite well. Upon a revisit, the film holds up remarkably well, revealing more and more of its secrets and layers with added viewings. This isn't a one time affair, it's a continually rewarding experience that only gets better and more emotionally fulfilling with each viewing.
Cinelicious Pics, a company spearheaded by producer Paul Korver and former American Cinemateque programmer Dennis Bartok, has done a marvelous job curating their collection and Belladonna of Sadness is the latest gem in an increasingly shiny crown. Belladonna of Sadness will be remembered as one of the great rediscoveries of 2015-2016, and deservedly so. It is both completely a product of its time and timeless, a rare feat accomplished with stunning simplicity here. It is gorgeous.
Cinelicious Pics deserves some kind of prize for the remarkable restoration of Belladonna of Sadness. Scanned in 4K, the film looks astonishingly good, almost as though the forty years between its original release and the present day never happened. You can almost feel the textures of the vast canvasses used by the artists to create this one of a kind film. Created mostly in pencil and watercolor, Belladonna's unique appearance is remarkably well respresented on this new Blu-ray disc. The beautiful soundtrack, one of the film's many highlights, is equally well treated in a new DTS-HD mono track that retains all of the beauty of this diversely scored feature.
When it comes to extras, Cinelicious did a solid job of grabbing key members of the remaining crew possible to discuss their recollections about the film and it's production and history. We get three interviews on this disc, and all three have definite value to fans looking for insight. First up is an interview with director Yamamoto, who is quite candid about the process as well as his own childhood and the road to creating this particular animated film and how he was inspired by his own manga heroes in the 1940s. Toward the end of his interview he is joined by artist Funai Kuni, who expands on his recollections in his own interview as well as digging through some of the original concept art for the film and explaining some of his technique. Last up is a longer interview with the composer Satoh Masahiko, who discusses not only this film, but also his long career in music stretching back to his teenage years as a pianist in a jazz bar. All three interviews are well worth your time.
Last, but certainly not least, is a 16-page booklet with a new essay from Bartok that explores many facets of the film's history, production, influence and influcences, as well as the contemporary reposne to this lost gem of Japanese animation. It's a wonderful expansive essay that is worth a few minutes of your time.
You aren't likely to see anything quite like Belladonna of Sadness ever again. It was a product of a time and temperment that may be lost forever. We have Cinelicious Pics to thank for preserving, restoring, and presenting the film to a new generation. This one gets my highest recommendation.
Belladonna of Sadness
- Eiichi Yamamoto
- Yoshiyuki Fukuda
- Jules Michelet (novel)
- Eiichi Yamamoto
- Tatsuya Nakadai
- Katsuyuki Itô
- Aiko Nagayama
- Shigako Shimegi