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.