Written by: George Pacheco on August 4th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, 1973
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto
Writers: Yoshiyuki Fukuda, Eiichi Yamamoto
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Katsuyuki Itô, Aiko Nagayama, Shigako Shimegi, Masaya Takahashi, Natsuka Yashiro, Masakane Yonekura
BluRay released: July 12th, 2015
Approximate running time: 87 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: DTS-HD Mono Japanese
BluRay Release: Cinelicious Pics
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $39.99
Belladonna of Sadness has received a substantial amount of buzz lately, thanks to its brand new restoration, repertory tour and Blu-Ray release. There’s good reason behind all of this attention, however, as this 1973 animated film provides some truly magical moments.
First thing right off the bat: Belladonna of Sadness is a gorgeous film, chock full of amazing colors, drawings and set pieces which stick with the listener long after the brief, 87 minute running time has run its course. Director Eiichi Yamamoto and his crew do have a story tell, but their film is truthfully more of an audio/visual experience, designed to wash over the viewer in waves.
The actual plot follows the newly married Jeanne and Jean, who fall afoul of a ruthless and war mongering local lord who mercilessly taxes their small town. Jeanne undergoes a series of brutal assaults throughout the film, while her husband seems to wallow in alcohol and despondency. There is a brief moment of comeuppance when Jeanne enters into a pact with the devil, but-as is the case with so many of these classic tales-tragic circumstances eventually work their way back around for the couple, in dramatic and beautifully rendered fashion.
Themes of feminism, sexuality and religion all make appearances here within Belladonna of Sadness, although sometimes it feels as if these messages are a little too lightly rendered for a film of this length. Yamamoto’s work could’ve been an explosive short film, but as it stands, Belladonna does lose a little bit of steam around the halfway point, although Jeanne and Jean’s final stand is haunting and poetic as a fitting send-off.
This is a minor point of contention, however, especially given how successful the film is from a visual standpoint, as well as how strong the psych/jazz/funk score from composer Masahiko Satoh is at retaining viewer interest in the largely still images which race across the screen. Belladonna of Sadness should be seen by everyone with a fondness for evocative and mystical animation from the 1970s and 80s, particularly fans of the style used by Ralph Bakshi and Rankin Bass for their J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations. Cheers to Cinelicious Pics for bringing this memorable film back into the public consciousness.
This Blu-Ray from Cinelicious Pics is presented in a 1.32:1 aspect ratio from the original 1.37:1, and looks amazing here on home video. The colors have been restored to a vibrant glory considering their age, with plenty of definition and texture, without any artifacting or glitches to report. The DTS-HD mono audio track is clear and drop-free, with proper English subtitles which do move a bit quick during the opening titles, but are otherwise fine during the actual film’s running time. Overall, Belladonna of Sadness just looks fantastic.
There is also a nice selection of extras, including interviews with the film’s director Eiichi Yamamoto, art director kuni Fukai and composer Masahiko Satoh who all go into their respective roles on the film. A nicely illustrated booklet is also included with an essay by filmmaker, screenwriter and programmer Dennis Bartok, while the film’s original theatrical trailer and a U.S. trailer round out what is a fine presentation from Cinelicious Pics.