Category Archives: Restorations

ROLLING STONE: Inside the Greatest X-Rated Animated Film You’ve Never Heard Of



By Jason Newman
May 11, 2016

Long-lost 1973 erotic anime ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ gets the restoration treatment — and finally, the audience it deserves

At the 1973 Berlin Film Festival, overenthusiastic parents, eager to take their kids to a “family-friendly” animated film, crowded into a German theater for a recently released Japanese anime film with an unusual title: Belladonna of Sadness. They expected something that might distract their kids for 90 minutes, a sort of proto-My Neighbor Totoro; instead, they were treated to an opening scene that climaxes with a brutal prima nocta gang rape, a devil disguised as an impish phallus worming his way between the heroine’s legs and, in between surreal orgy scenes, a meditative reflection on war, class structure and feminism.

A lost masterpiece for more than 40 years, Eiichi Yamamoto’s singular, psychedelic film was largely neglected (or outright derided) upon its release, ruined the studio that produced it and, in subsequent years, became a discrete curio passed around in bootleg form among anime fanatics. Never before released in the United States, the film has been restored by Cinelicious Pics, ready to shock a new generation of cult movie fans and outré animation aficionados. (It opens in Los Angeles on May 13th, and will be available on iTunes starting July 12th.)

The plot, as such: When newlyweds Jeanne and Jean approach the lord of the manor for blessings on their marriage, the lord and his courtiers viciously assault the new bride. Broken by the experience, the young woman begins conversing with an impish demon, who first appears as a playful penis. After war breaks out and most of the men (including the region’s regent) leave for battle, Jeanne makes a pact with Satan for supernatural powers and becomes a prominent, feared figure in the village; the Joan of Arc-like avenging angel eventually leads a rebellion against the ruling class.

But any attempt to describe the boundary-pushing narrative pales in comparison to Belladonna’s form and imagery, as the film blends still pictures of watercolor paintings and illustrations with surreal, trippy visuals. (Think Chris Marker’s La Jetée meets Fantastic Planet — or Yellow Submarine meets your worst acid freakout.) In one series of scenes, a man’s penis turns into a horse, a giraffe grows out of another man’s genitals, rabbits escape someone’s rectum, two tortoises 69 each other and several fish wriggle from a woman’s vagina. Pixar this is not.

Musician and composer Masahiko Satoh’s esoteric score only adds to the weirdness; a dizzying blend of atonal avant-garde jazz, lush ballads, psychedelic rock and dirty, wah-wah-driven funk. “The imagery of the film is very abstract, so I had to think abstractly,” Satoh says. “I had two routes when thinking about how to compose music for the film: try to find a sound that expresses the truth of the characters’ internal struggles or express it through a pop aesthetic. I ended up going between those two.”

Inspired by French historian-author Jules Michelet’s 1862 feminist witchcraft novel La Sorciere, Belladonna of Sadness remains that rare anime whose sense of transgression and shock value hasn’t diminished four decades after its release. At the time, film studios like Toei – whose best known protégé Hiyao Miyazaki would become one of the medium’s most celebrated directors – were well-known for its popular, yet largely anodyne offerings. Yamamoto’s film bucked that trend — and ended up paying the price for it.

“It was simply too hardcore for most animation audiences in the early 1970s,” Dennis Bartok, Executive Vice President, Acquisitions & Distribution for Cinelicious, writes in a new essay accompanying the film’s release. “It was, tellingly, too strange even for grindhouse distributors to take a crack at. [It’s] the first truly erotic animated feature film.”

“There was colorful stuff, but nothing that really pushed the envelope,” says Mike Toole, editor-at-large for Anime News Network. “[Mushi Productions head and anime godfather] Osamu Tezuka wanted to push the limits of the medium and make something targeted for adults. The public was not ready for Belladonna when it came out. It had a reputation as, ‘This is one of the worst animes ever made.’ But in retrospect, not so much. There’s a new appreciation for it.”

Mushi had long earned acclaim for creating the lovable, ubiquitous Astro Boy series in the 1960s. But Belladonna, the third film in the studio’s trilogy that also included 1001 Nights (1969) and Cleopatra (1970 — its American title was Cleopatra: Queen of Sex), was virtually ignored upon its Japanese release, sparsely distributed in Europe and never made it stateside. The studio, already teetering on the edge of solvency, went bankrupt, in part, because of its release. In subsequent years, however, it would become ground zero for a generation of beloved filmmakers (Osamu Dezaki, Gisaburo Sugii) and studios (Sunrise, Madhouse).

For the film’s creators, the second life of one of anime’s most shocking movies is as surprising to them as anyone else. “I hadn’t really thought about it at all in the past 40 years,” Satoh laughs. “I’m just glad it’s gotten another chance in the limelight.”
Asked how he would describe the film to someone who’s never seen it, Belladonna artist Kuni Fukai’s answer is swift: “To not watch it with your family.”

THE NEW YORK TIMES: ‘Belladonna of Sadness,’ a Bewitching Masterpiece


The_New_York_Times_logo copy

By Glenn Kenny
May 5, 2016

To summarize this film is to present a solid argument that it’s one of the most unusual ever made: “Belladonna of Sadness,” making its New York premiere on Friday, is a 1973 Japanese erotic animated musical inspired by the 19th-century French historian Jules Michelet’s account of witchery in the Middle Ages.

The reality of the movie, directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, is odder still. Opening with a jazz-rock song and lyrical, static imagery of attractive Western figures in watercolor, it features narration telling of Jean and Jeanne, young French provincial marrieds “smiled upon by God.” But not for long. Jeanne is subjected to a brutal, surrealistically rendered gang rape by the village lord and his claque. The film then lays out an imaginative, and sometimes overwrought, narrative exegesis, positing that the power of feminine sexuality is essentially demonic. While weaving thread one afternoon, post-trauma, Jeanne is visited by a small, phallus-shaped imp.

“Are you the Devil?” she asks.

“I am you,” he replies. Thus begins Jeanne’s triumph and ruin.

“Belladonna of Sadness” is compulsively watchable, even at its most disturbing: The imagery is frequently graphic, and still, after over 40 years, it has the power to shock. The narrative, however implausible, is seductive. And the meticulously executed visual freakouts are awe-inspiring: The Black Death, which, of course, spices up the story line, gets its own four-minute production number. The variety of graphic modes — with references to fashion magazines, pop art, psychedelia, underground comics, arty pornography and much more — is dizzying.

“Belladonna of Sadness” is undoubtedly a landmark of animated film, and arguably a masterpiece. But it’s a very disquieting one. After experiencing the picture, you are left with the nagging suspicion that its retrograde ideology and its ravishing imagery are not contradictory attributes but are, rather, inextricably codependent.

INDIEWIRE: Cinelicious Pics to Release 4k Restoration of Lost Noir ‘Private Property’



By Zack Sharf
March 21, 2016

The noir hails from Orson Welles protégé Leslie Stevens.

Cinelicious Pics has announced plans to distribute a new 4k restoration of the long-lost 1960’s noir “Private Property.” The movie is directed by Leslie Stevens and stars American character actor Warren Oates in his first significant screen role. The 4k restoration will have its world premiere at the 7th Annual TCM Classic Film Festival, which runs from April 28-May 1 in Hollywood.

The official synopsis reads: “‘Private Property’ begins as two homicidal Southern California drifters wander off the beach and into the seemingly-perfect Beverly Hills home of an unhappy housewife. Shimmering with sexual tension and lensed in stunning black and white by master cameraman Ted McCord, ‘Private Property’ is both an eerie, neo-Hitchcockian thriller and a savage critique of the hollowness of the Playboy-era American Dream.”

“I was completely bowled over by the film,” said David Marriott, Cinelicious Pics’ Director of Acquisitions, in an official statement. “A sort of hothouse late-period film noir, ‘Private Property’ is deeply bizarre and incredibly compelling. Considering the talent involved – director Stevens, cameraman Ted McCord, actor Warren Oates – it’s very rare to rediscover a completely lost crime film like this.”

“We’re thrilled to be showcasing a discovery of this caliber at the TCM Classic Film Festival,” added Charles Tabesh, senior vice president of programming for Turner Classic Movies (TCM). “Our mission at TCM is to bring audiences great classic films and to help them discover unknown classics, such as ‘Private Property.'”

The film had a very brief theatrical release in the 1960’s but has been lost ever since. The title joins other Cinelicious restorations, including “Belladonna of Sadness.”

INDIEWIRE: Poster for Long-Lost ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ is Cleverly Censored for an American Audience



By Jake Spencer
March 21, 2016

Indie outfit Cinelicious Pics recently restored Eiichi Yamamoto’s ambitious animated masterpiece, “Belladonna of Sadness,” for the big screen. The film’s trailer, released last month, reveals just how controversial the film still is after all all these years (it was first released in 1973).

The film follows Belladonna, a peasant woman, who makes a pact with the devil to gain magical powers after she is banished from her village after a horrific attack. What follows seems like a psycho-sexual journey into the depths of a woman’s despair.

“Belladonna of Sadness” opens May 6 for its fist ever run in America, first at the brand-new Metrograph theater in New York and the Alamo Drafthouse at the New Mission in San Francisco, and at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles the week of May 13, with a national rollout to follow. Check out our exclusive poster below.

VICE: Exclusive trailer for BELLADONNA OF SADNESS

Vice_Logo copy2

By J.W. McCormack
February 18, 2016

This Porn-y 70s Film Is a Mind-Melting Head Trip

The 1970s were perhaps the grossest chapter of recorded time, an era wherein the previous decade’s flower power rotted on the vine and a politically engaged, protest-minded youth culture dissolved into an atmosphere of distinctly hostile decadence. By the time The Joy of Sex, with its illustrations of hairy fornicators, arrived on shelves in ’72, sexual freedom had more or less given way to wanton Henry Miller–esque rutting. But for all its prurience, the decade that gave us Deep Throat, Hustler, and Plato’s Retreat was also the last time when widespread experimentation dominated the mainstream in every corner of the arts, from the creator-driven films of the New Hollywood and rock ‘n’ roll’s enshrinement of the drug culture in the popular imagination to the spectacle of perfectly normal people reading Gravity’s Rainbow. It was also the golden age of cartoon sexuality: Adult animator Ralph Bakshi followed the success of the X-rated Fritz the Cat with burned-out, bell-bottomed exercises in hand-drawn hallucination like Coonskin and Wizards, and the magazine Heavy Metal cornered the market for large-bosomed women riding dragons and beating the shit out of pervy robots.

But the greatest legacy of the 1970s vogue for melding Saturday morning cartoons with Saturday Night Fever was in Japan, where anime succeeded the pornographic “pink film” in marrying transgressive and—especially in the case of hentai—graphic sexual content with eye-popping psychedelic excess. The genre’s first masterpiece was Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Beradonna), a film that has a visual style so sui generis that I can only compare it to Sesame Street if Sesame Street were, as my paternal grandmother believed, a recruiting film for LSD-addled freakazoids and the Church of Satan.

When Belladonna of Sadness was originally released in 1973, it immediately bankrupted its studio, Mushi Production. Mushi had been founded in the early 60s by manga artist Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and Unico, and its style was largely responsible for establishing the frenetic big-eyes-small-mouth aesthetic of anime. But Belladonna actually has more in common visually with Aubrey Beardsley, Yellow Submarine, and the Tarot-card-looking output of the illustrator Kay Nielson. It’s like Bakshi at his trippiest. But here I am talking like this is not a film that features a long scene of flora and fauna—giraffes, crocodiles, orange trees, you name it—emerging from people’s orifices like something out of a Boschean Hanna Barbara, and, reader, that is precisely what I’m talking about.

The plot concerns a purple-haired witch named Jeanne and her seduction by the devil, inexplicably disguised as a little talking penis, who grants her supernatural powers. The remaining story line, if you can call it that, largely consists of Jeanne’s arcane revenge on the nobles responsible for her violent sexual assault (in a ghastly early sequence that’s made even more uncomfortable by her attacker’s striking resemblance to Hordak from the old She-Ra cartoons). The film is a Joan of Arc pastiche, a musical, an exploitation picture, and a pornographic movie—but what it really is is an excuse for a breathtaking series of montages where a singing, dancing Black Death melts faces into skulls, kaleidoscopic specters of pop-art Americana signify the consummation of Jeanne’s pact with the Evil One, and an assortment of infernal penises perform vicissitudes previously undreamt by any human penis, which is perhaps the greatest contribution an animation studio has made to creative physiology since Cab Calloway serenaded Betty Boop in Minnie the Moocher.

Even with so much stylized pandemonium, it can be hard to overlook how frequently Belladonna staggers over the line between transgressive pop-porn and the kind of outright misogyny that mars so many otherwise righteous female-driven revenge narratives. Still, given Jeanne’s uncompromising ownership of her profane desires and independence from her milquetoast husband, it was miles more progressive than anything coming out of the West in 1972. The film’s montages are bookended by still-life illustrations that resemble art-brut storyboards over which the dialogue is spoken. These episodes, with their curiously unfinished and sketchy figuration of witches and warlocks—like if Egon Schiele drew an edition of The Dungeon Master’s Guide—aren’t exactly the highlight of the film, but no worse than the old herky-jerky Marvel cartoons from the 60s. And anyway, the second half of the film is largely given over to the psychosexual exploits of Jeanne and her devil friend, who even in his final form retains a phallic hairdo and tells Jeanne, “You are even more beautiful than God,” which I think is an awfully sweet thing to say.

Belladonna of Sadness is deserving of a place in the cultural memory because it marks the moment when the Times Square porn groove met manga cuteness, and because it happens to function as an omnibus of 20th century modes, including that of the Impressionist watercolor, the fuzzy Kandinsky-esque geometric dissolve, and the prog-rock album sleeve. It is also clear from some of the dialogue (“Ignoring status is against God! The work of the devil!”) that the acceleration of Japanese pop culture was imminent, making Belladonna as much a social document as a benchmark in visual storytelling. And Cinelicious’s gorgeous restoration from 35mm and subsequent North American release means that it is destined to take its place in the personal mythos of the retro-fetishist, high-trash, obscurist, art-creep demographic alongside recent rediscoveries like Holy Mountain, Possession, and Hausu.

In other words, Belladonna of Sadness is an answer to the prayers of those whose taste in film has evolved to the point where it echoes Jeanne’s rejoinder to Satan, when he asks what she wants to do with her newfound energies: “Anything… so long as it’s bad.” Caligula would’ve wept.

THE NEW YORK TIMES: Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric



By Mike Hale
July 3, 2015

The annual cinematic cornucopia known as Japan Cuts — the largest festival of Japanese film in the United States — has previously been presented in association with the even larger New York Asian Film Festival. This year, its ninth, Japan Cuts is going it alone as it presents 28 features and a program of experimental shorts beginning Thursday through July 19 at Japan Society in Manhattan.

The most distinctive item on the program is this restoration of a 1973 animated feature produced by the anime legend Osamu Tezuka and directed by his colleague Eiichi Yamamoto. It’s an Age of Aquarius curio, based on a 19th-century study of witchcraft and featuring alternately flowery and surprisingly graphic depictions of sex. (No one under 18 will be admitted to the screening.) Fair warning: The story, about a peasant woman assaulted by the king on her wedding night, is both a female-empowerment fable and a rape fantasy, in which the initial attack is followed by less violent anime-style intrusions of flowering tendrils and devilish imps. But the impact of the story is secondary to the strangeness and beauty of the mostly still images (the camera moves slowly across them) done in styles resembling Klimt, O’Keeffe, Op Art, Ralph Steadman and the higher class of Playboy illustration.

INDIEWIRE: Cinelicious Pics is bringing two rarely seen Agnès Varda gems to a new generation of audiences.

Agnès Varda and Jane Birkin in JANE B. PAR ANGES V.

indiewire_toh_logo_286x50by Ryan Lattanzio | TOH!


LA cinephiles had the pleasures of seeing two Agnès Varda discoveries from the middle of her career, and of seeing the legendary French filmmaker speak, at an American Cinematheque retrospective this past weekend.

Cinelicious Pics has just acquired the double bill “Jane B. by Agnès V.” and “Kung-Fu Master,” both starring Euro icon Jane Birkin, for US theatrical, VOD and Home Video distribution. Supervised by Varda, the new restorations made their West Coast debut over the weekend, and looked gorgeous in digital 2K.

Less a biopic than a quasi-fiction, poetic-realist documentary, “Jane B. By Agnes V” looks at the actress’ many faces. Really, it’s Varda’s “Orlando,” a time-hopping stitching together of Birkin’s best and least-favorite roles, and the parts she dreams of playing (including Joan of Arc). The film features Birkin’s longtime collaborator and erstwhile lover Serge Gainsbourg, New Wave actor Jean-Pierre Léaud (a.k.a. Antoine Doinel), Birkin’s daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg (who went on to star in the films of Lars von Trier) and Varda’s son Mathieu Demy, whom she had with her filmmaker-husband Jacques Demy.

Mathieu Demy and Charlotte Gainsbourg in KUNG FU MASTER

A young Mathieu Demy and 14-year-old Charlotte Gainsbourg also appear in Varda’s challenging romance “Kung Fu Master,” which stretches the “May-December” definition to its extremes. Aside from a video game that Demy’s early-teens Julien obsessively plays, the film has nothing to do with kung fu. Instead, the 40-year-old Birkin plays the single mother of two who falls in love with him. Their relationship is treated very matter-of-factly by Varda, who imbues it with a tenderness that is well-played, and earnestly acted, by Demy and Birkin.

At the Aero Theatre on Saturday, Varda said she wrote the film in “two minutes” after Birkin pitched the story to her during the making of “Jane B.” They took a break on that production and shot “Kung-Fu” quickly in the summer. Varda, who most famously directed “Cleo From 5 to 7” and “The Gleaners and I,” didn’t feel weird about directing her young son as the object of a much older woman’s affections. “From the minute we started to film, he was Julien.”

According to Varda, “Kung-Fu Master” hasn’t played much on French TV due to its controversial subject matter. The film also deals head-on with the rise of AIDS in the ’80s, interjecting its whimsical broken-fairytale romance with PSAs about sexual awareness and the disease’s ever-growing reach.

When asked if “Jane B.” (never released in the US) and “Kung-Fu” (released briefly in the 80s) belong together as a double bill, Varda said, “I don’t think so. They’re two separate films.” She may be right, but it’s a treat we get to see them at all, and newly resurrected from their original 35mm negatives.

Release dates forthcoming.