Monday, May 2, 2016

Belladonna of Sadness opens Friday

The best animated film you've probably never seen opens Friday. The mind blowing BELADONNA OF SADNESS is one of the greatest cinematic pieces of art I've ever run across. I was delighted to discover the film last year during Japan Cuts.  I talked about the film to anyone who would listen. Now the film is coming out and I get another shot at trying to get you to go see the film. To that end he's the piece I wrote after I saw the film and had my mind blown

Demanding to be as well known as the work of Ralph Bakshi, Jean-Francois Laguionie and Rene Laloux, BELLADONNA OF SADNESS is the third part of the Animara Trilogy released by Mushi Production. The other two parts (1001 NIGHTS and CLEOPATRA) were directed by Osamu Tezuka. This film was started by Tezuka who left the company early in production. The job of directing fell to Tezuka's collaborator Eiichi Yamamato and he turned in one hell of a film.

Based on Jules Michelet's SATANISM AND WITCHCRFT the film tells the story of lover Jean and Jeanne who marry and run afoul of the local Lord. Jeanne runs off to the woods and makes a pact with the devil...

Using music and an artistic style that mirrors classic artists such as Klimt, Beardsley as well as modern artists such as Michael Kaluta, Charles Vess, Moebius, Jeffrey Catherine Jones and others working in the late 60's and early 70's art scene this film is a trip and a half. This film is the very definition of a midnight movie, its so wild and trippy that had the film played the US (until the recent 4K restoration the film has never had an official English translation) back in the 70's it would have been hailed in the pantheon of great cult films like ELTOPO, ERASERHEAD, FANTASTIC PLANET, WIZARDS, and other similar head trip films.

How the hell could this film have remained off the radar for so long?

This film is a masterpiece on pretty much every level...and I need to see it again and again because watching the film for this review I realized that I was missing too much. I was either watching the story and missing the art or I was watching the art and ignoring the subtitles thus losing bits of the story.

This is one of those films that had the right people seen it way back when the history of animation could very well have been changed. Yes Bakshi was doing some similar things as were some European animators, but there is something about what Yamamato did here that is very different. A blending of stills and animation with different styles of art, traditional animation art, water color, magic marker, painting the film is weirdly free of constraints. It uses whatever it needs to to tell that seconds piece of the story. Nothing looks like Disney or Warners or even UPA.

Additionally Bakshi's films and the other animators films got regular releases. The films played in my neighborhood at my theaters. There is no way, outside of the odd art theater BELLADONNA would ever have played outside of midnight, it's too strange, too violent, too disturbing. The film would have played at midnight and gained a cult and become a secret film that all the cool people knew about. It would have been infused into popular culture the way many other midnight films were.

I'm sorry the art and animation geeks inside me have taken control of my fingers and are typing these words to you in the hope you will go see this truly awesome film.

Yes I know the story can be a tad slow and draggy, yes I know the violence (especially some against women) is ugly, but dear god almighty the art work and the animation not only redeems the film but makes it into one of the truly great animated films of all time.


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