*Warning: May Contain Spoilers.*
When we hear about Japanese animation, we usually already have our mind set right to “Anime.” In rare cases, other Japanese animated films have emerged that don’t fit the norm or isn’t your typical “anime.”
One film recently that fits this category has been gaining traction in the last couple months. It has been given a 4K restoration and has been playing during film festivals for the first time in the US. It will be released on Blu Ray in July. That film is “Belladonna of Sadness.”
Belladonna of Sadness was the third film in a series known as “Animerama.” Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion), created an animation studio called Mushi Production. It started out as a rival to Toei Animation in 1961 as Toei let Osamu’s contract expire. It helped rival in animation to Japanese television with hits such as Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, and Princess Knight.
During the early 1970’s, the studio decided to experiment into adult oriented animation. It started with two comedic films, 1001 Nights (1969) and Cleopatra (1971). Neither film did well at the Japanese box office, as its mostly x-rated sex appeal did not bode well with audiences. While Osamu worked and was credited for the first two films, he left shortly after he did some pre-production for Belladonna, which is why his name is not in the credits. Belladonna was released in 1973, and while it was more serious than it’s comedic predecessors; it also failed at the box office due do its violent imagery and sexuality. It was also considered ahead of it’s time. With the failure of these films, Mushi Production filed for bankruptcy and closed the studio by the end of that year.
Belledonna seemed to be lost in time after Mushi closed, but it was kept alive through small screenings promoting “Avant-Garde” animation. That is how it got into the hands of Hadriane Belove, cofounder of Cinefamily. He brought it to the attention to the CEO of Cinelicious Pictures. Cinelicious Pictures is responsible for the restoration and release of the film. The Red Band trailer is below.
Warning: Trailer does contain Nudity and violent imagery.
I had seen a cut of the film online pre-restoration. The music is haunting and wonderful. The artwork is beautiful with watercolors and limited animation. While the presentation is good, the story is sad and many scenes are hard to watch or get through because of the content. Towards the beginning of the film, the main character Jeanne is brutally raped by the village lord after her new husband didn’t have enough money in his dowery to give to this lord. While the rape is done in an “artsy” style (if you can call it that), it’s still very hard to watch and makes you feel like you need to sit in the shower for hours after viewing. Jeanne is also repeatedly harassed by the Devil, who offers her revenge for the rape and later being ostracized by the village for possibly being a witch. The problem is the devil most of the time looks like a penis. And after she finally gives in, there is a tripped out sequence that looks like it copied Schoolhouse Rocks design and should be viewed while tripping out on LSD.
I am curious how the 4K restoration will turned out, but I will most likely be skimming over the hard to watch sequences. The artwork is worth a look at, but just know if you are not comfortable with sexual and violent imagery, this may not be your cup of tea.