There’s Nothing Like the Psychedelic, Surreal Fairy Tale ‘Belladonna of Sadness’

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If I were compiling a list of movies that I’ve seen that are like Eiichi Yamamoto’s Belladonna of Sadness, it would be nothing more than a blank sheet of paper. This stunning work of artistry is as if someone tasked legendary Disney animators to craft the oddest fairy tale ever told and ensured that they’d follow through on the task by spiking their office coffee pot with copious amounts of LSD.

For years, Belladonna of Sadness was unavailable in any official capacity for viewers in the United States. That changed this very year when Cinelicious Pics teamed with Cinefamily for a stunning restoration of the film. After playing at art theaters across the country (which it is still playing a number of art houses around the nation), the gorgeous restoration of Belladonna of Sadness is now available on Blu-ray. This 4K restoration also boast the film’s complete vision, restoring some of the more risqué scenes that had been excised by censors over 40 years ago. The final result is visually vibrant Blu-ray disc of a forgotten masterpiece, complete with new interviews with the director Yamamoto, the film’s art director Kuni Fukai, and composer Masahiko Satoh.

A 16-page booklet, original trailers, and the new exclusive interviews are merely window dressing. The real jewel is the movie itself, an eye-popping work of animation featuring images of the surreal and psychedelic. And yet for all the beauty that jumps off the screen, there’s a certain ugliness to some of the content within Belladonna of Sadness, a balancing act of vibrant sexuality and the lingering scars of sexual violence. No matter where the story of Belladonna of Sadness leads, the eyes are met with some of the most amazing visuals ever committed to celluloid, or in this matter Blu-ray.

Made in 1973, Belladonna of Sadness has something that rarely pops up in the modern era where all visual trickery can just be explained away by computer technology. Watching this lush visual masterwork, there were moments that I asked myself, “How did they do that?”

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS – OFFICIAL TRAILER – CINEFAMILY from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

The story of the film is based upon the novel La Sorcière by Jules Michelet. It’s a fairy tale of sorts, albeit one that is remarkably dark and twisted. Jean and Jeanne are in the midst of a love for the ages, noble and pure. However, the evil lord of the land won’t bless their union unless Jean pays the proscribed tax set forth by the lord. Unable to pay, the lord takes a horrific form of taxation all his own by raping the helpless Jeanne. This is all visualized in startling artistry, the pure and beautiful Jeanne ripped apart at the legs as the black backdrop of her body is consumed by the red that pours from her wounds. Few films could handle such an ugly matter with such grace, but Yamamoto is able to pull it off without ever undercutting the inherent ghastliness of the wretched crime being committed.

As Belladonna of Sadness continues, Jeanne is subject to more and more moments of pain and degradation before reaching a point where she embraces her sexuality and allure only to be painted as a witch and a heretic by her neighbors. It’s a never-ending cycle of pain that Jeanne is a part of, and it eventually leads to her lowest point – being courted by Satan to be his wife. However, she doesn’t become a ghastly witch and shed her physical beauty, instead she retains her good looks as a means to draw more and more souls to the pits of damnation. Jeanne’s power reaches the point where the lord, the very man that violated her oh so long ago, is asking her for the secrets of her powers, and even offers parts of his kingdom to her. Her reply is that she wants the entire world. All of the horrific games played by the men in the world have created a ravishing monster with an appetite for vengeance.

Yet for all the sexual content on display in Belladonna of Sadness, none of it comes across as exploitative or simple pornography. This isn’t an animated movie where the film’s heroine is consistently raped by monsters with penis tentacles or anything like that. Here is a movie that travails in some really murky waters with artistic aplomb, a rare feat for a film of any era from any nation by a filmmaker of any gender.

Its grace in handling very questionable material elevates Belladonna of Sadness, but it is really the astounding visual beauty that makes Belladonna of Sadness a must-see for cinephiles everywhere. Even its moment when the material takes a turn for the ugly, the film itself is always a marvel to look at, bordering between the psychedelic and the surreal. Watercolors jump off the screen with its vibrant animation style and swirl in a cascade of colors that can slowly shift from sheer beauty to absolute horror. No matter what events are unfolding in the story before you, the images alone of Belladonna of Sadness necessitate your attention.

As much as art is of its time and place, sometimes it takes a while for a piece of art to receive the attention it deserves. It only took 43 years for Belladonna of Sadness to take its rightful hold in America, but now it’s been given the loving restoration it deserves and is preserved for future generations wanting to dive into one of the most visually astounding movies in history, a work artistry that stands with no peers. It’s more than worth it to dive into Eiichi Yamamoto’s psychedelic fairy tale of twisted sexuality. There’s only one risk: You may never see the world the same again.

Belladonna of Sadness is now available on Blu-ray and is still playing in select theaters. For more information go to Cinelicious Pics’ website here.

Belladonna of Sadness
  • Overall Score
5

Summary

Unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, Belladonna of Sadness features eye-popping visuals of the surreal and psychedelic to compliment a twisted fairy tale of witches and devils.

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