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Belladonna of Sadness

Belladonna of Sadness (1973/2016, Cinelicious Pics)

Originally released in 1973 and mostly ignored at that time, Belladonna of Sadness is an erotic Japanese folk tale told by way of a psychedelic animated film. The story and its visions, which alternate between scenes of violence, eroticism, and mind-bending shapes and images, center around a young couple, Jean and Jeanne, who are in love with each other and would like to lead a simple but happy life together in the farming village where they reside. But the gorgeous Jeanne is first violated by the lord of the village and his people, and then courted by Satan. She never asked to have demonic powers, but when they are pressed onto her, she uses them in various ways, both for herself and the meek people of the village. Her beloved, meanwhile, slips into a state of alcoholic dissolution. It is a classic tale of innocence ruined by the evils of power, and the struggle between earthly pleasures and morality.  It was ahead of its time in many ways, including its feminist slant in having a woman possess powers over those in her vicinity. The animation mostly comes by way of stills – brilliant pop art paintings that one can’t help but marvel at, even when they depict disturbing moments. The visuals do much to tell the story, but there are also small amounts of narration and dialogue between characters. The musical score is as pleasurable as the artwork; Masahiko Satoh’s soundtrack is a swirling prog rock mini masterpiece that in its own way is as much of a driving force in the film as are the visions of director Eiichi Yamamoto and art director Kuni Fukai. Too intense for most filmgoers at the time of its release and kept underground until this Blu Ray reissue from Cinelicious Pics, Belladonna of Sadness should be seen as a classic of animated film on a par with Yellow Submarine, Fritz the Cat, and Fantastic Planet. This new edition boasts a restoration of the film complete with footage cut from the original negative, interviews with key personnel, and an informative and lushly illustrated booklet.

Review by Brian Greene/2016
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