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November 25, 2015

Erotic Classic 'Belladonna of Sadness' to See U.S. Release-UPDATE

UPDATE: Belladonna of Sadness will be shown on December 11 at Cinefamily, the curated film program at the Silent Movie Theater, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90036. The following is Cinefamily's take on the movie, which can be found here, and where advance tickets may be purchased: "One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese animation, never before officially released in the U.S., Belladonna of Sadness is a mad, swirling, psychedelic light-show of medieval tarot-card imagery with horned demons, haunted forests and La Belle Dame Sans Merci, equal parts J.R.R. Tolkien and gorgeous, explicit Gustav Klimt-influenced eroticism. The last film in the adult-themed Animerama trilogy produced by the godfather of Japanese anime & manga, Osamu Tezuka and directed by his long time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (Astro Boy and Kimba The White Lion), Belladonna unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman, Jeanne (voiced by Aiko Nagayama) is violently raped 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. "Extremely transgressive and not for the easily offended, Belladonna is fueled by a mind-blowing Japanese psych rock soundtrack by noted avant-garde jazz composer Masahiko Satoh. The film has been newly restored by Cinelicious Pics using the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements – and including over 8 minutes of surreal and explicit footage cut from the negative. On par with Rene Laloux’s Fantastic Planet and Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards as an LSD-stoked 1970s head trip, Belladonna marks a major rediscovery for animation fans. If Led Zeppelin had a favorite film, this would be it. In other words, Stairway to Hell. (Dennis Bartok, Cinelicious) "Dir. Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973, DCP Restoration, 93 min." TOKYO—Anybody remember Astro Boy? Anybody? Astro Boy was the first Japanese-produced animated TV show to be broadcast in the U.S., beginning in 1963, though it had been a staple of anime literature in its home country since 1951. It involved an android boy, dubbed "Astro Boy" (in Japan, "Mighty Atom") created by Dr. Tenma to replace his own real son who died in a car accident, though the robot is eventually turned over to the head of the Ministry of Science, Dr. Elefun, who puts him to work saving the country from various monsters and mad scientists. Astro Boy was created by the legendary Osamu Tezuka, the prolific manga (graphic) artist/cartoonist and animator, who over the course of his career produced more than 700 graphic novels totaling more than 150,000 pages—and even a couple of erotic animated films, including Belladonna of Sadness, which has recently been rediscovered and is scheduled to be released in the U.S. in the near future. Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Belladonna) was part of a trilogy of erotic animated films created by Tezuka, Eiichi Yamamoto and their studio, Mushi Productions, beginning in 1969, with Belladonna being the final installment, completed in 1973. Described as "Joan of Arc tragedy-triumph meets 1970s Japanese art house transgression" by Daily Beast contributor Jen Yamato, and "a long-forgotten X-rated psychedelic animation gem about one woman’s violation, persecution, and sexual awakening," Belladonna has never been released in the United States, though the entire trilogy, including A Thousand And One Nights and Cleopatra: Queen of Sex, did make it to DVD in Japan in 2004. Belladonna of Sadness is the story of a happy French peasant bride in the 1700s who first discovers sex with her husband, but is raped by a powerful feudal lord on her wedding night, leaving her vulnerable to the influences of the devil. "Belladonna’s affair with Satan—appearing first as a flirty phallic imp, he grows in size and intensity proportionate to his mounting desire to possess her—gets her ostracized by her peers, but also leads to a financial and sexual liberation that begins spreading to her fellow commoners, much to the dismay of the morally bankrupt religious-political order," Yamato writes, comparing the plotline to the persecution of "witches" in the American colonies which centuries later inspired political action by some modern feminist leaders. The rediscovered film was put in the hands of the L.A.-based film-lover group Cinelicious, which gave it a 4K upgrade and restored eight minutes of hardcore footage that did not appear in the Japanese release. The complete film was shown last week at Austin, Texas' Fantastic Fest, and will be released on DVD and possibly in theaters sometime next year.

 
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