The third film in Osamu Tezuka’s pioneering Animerama trilogy, director Eiichi Yamamoto’s 1973 cult anime Belladonna of Sadness was once too hot for America. But tastes have changed, and The Cinefamily, SpectreVision and Cinelicious feel the time is right to inject a 4K restoration of the Astro Boy director’s obscure erotic feature back into circulation.
Adapted from Jules Michelet’s sympathetic albeit inauthentic 1862 history of witchcraft La Sorciere, Yamamoto’s transgressive follow-up to 1969’s A Thousand and One Nights and 1970’s Cleopatra wasn’t made, like those films, with the participation of Osamu Tezuka. Belladonna of Sadness was never officially released in the U.S. and reportedly accelerated the bankrupty of Mushi Production, the studio founded by Tezuka a decade earlier.
And so it was forsaken to drift across the internet as a crap duplication, until production studio Cinelicious recently set about scanning and restoring Belladonna of Sadness from its original 35mm camera negative and sound elements. Here’s an example of the before-and-after restoration:
Cinelicious’ distribution arm Cinelicious Pics is joined in Belladonna of Sadness’ reissue by fellow Los Angeles film buffs SpectreVision, co-founded by actor Elijah Wood, and non-profit cinematheque The Cinefamily, whose co-founder Hadrian Belove initiated the project.
All of them sound pretty sold on its persistent relevance to experimental anime fans archiving their lost past. The film’s limited animation style is about as far away as one can get from the Disney model of full animation, with its byzantine Art Nouveau-inspired illustrative style borrowing from the tradition of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
“We created SpectreVision to support films that fall between standard definitions of genre,” said Wood. “I’m not sure we’ve ever encountered a film that better exemplifies this than Belladonna of Sadness, a unique and original work in every possible respect.”
The restoration marked the first time Belladonna of Sadness’ negatives and sound elements traveled out of Japan — which is surprising considering some of the transgressive anime that has traveled out of Japan since 1973. It’s making up for lost time with a forthcoming theatrical run, as well as Blu-ray and VOD releases in 2016. The new 4K restoration was screened at a sneak preview last month at New York City’s Japan Society.