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.
BELLADONNA OF SADNESS 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.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 29, 2014 | 9:00AM PT
Cinelicious Pics has signed an exclusive deal to restore and distribute the long-unavailable 1973 Japanese animated masterpiece BELLADONNA OF SADNESS, as its first major restoration and re-release. The last film in the groundbreaking Animerama trilogy produced by the godfather of Japanese anime & manga, Osamu Tezuka (METROPOLIS, ASTRO BOY) and directed by his long time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, BELLADONNA is a mad, swirling, psychedelic lightshow of medieval tarot-card imagery with horned demons and haunted forests. Never before released in the U.S., BELLADONNA OF SADNESS unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together like an animated version of Chris Marker’s LA JETEE. Cinelicious will restore the feature using the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements in anticipation of a 2015 theatrical, VOD, and home video re-release in North America.
Cinelicious Pics, which launched earlier this year, is uniquely positioned to restore film through its parent company Cinelicious. “It took months of negotiations to convince the Japanese rightsholders to entrust us with the original camera negative of the film which we’re restoring in-house,” says Cinelicious Pics’ President Paul Korver. “People will be simply blown away by the wild, hallucinatory images and soundtrack,” he adds. “BELLADONNA OF SADNESS belongs on a short list with Rene Laloux’s FANTASTIC PLANET and Ralph Bakshi’s WIZARDS as one of the trippiest animated films ever conceived,” adds Cinelicious Pics’ EVP of Acquisitions & Distribution Dennis Bartok. “This is a major rediscovery – and I have to give credit to Hadrian Belove at The Cinefamily here in L.A. for bringing the film to our attention.”
An innocent young woman, Jean (voiced by Katsutaka Ito) is savagely assaulted by the local lord on her wedding night. To take revenge, she makes a pact with the Devil himself (voiced by Tatsuya Nakadai, from Akira Kurosawa’s RAN) who appears as an erotic sprite and transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire. The film is fueled by a Japanese psych rock soundtrack by Masahiko Sato. The deal was negotiated by Cinelicious Pics’ President Paul Korver, President of Business Affairs Kristine Blumensaadt and EVP Dennis Bartok with Japanese rightsholders Gold View Co. and Mushi Productions.