Belladonna of Sadness

Belladonna of Sadness ★★★½

In 1973, the Japanese equivalent of Walt Disney decided to adapt a 19th century book about the feminist history of witchcraft into an animated prog-rock musical about a medieval peasant girl who gets gang-raped on her wedding night and then turns to Satan for help with her revenge. This is really a thing that happened. Strange even by the impossibly high standards of Japanese cinema, the wild and exhausting "Belladonna of Sadness" was conceived by Osamu Tezuka — the godfather of manga — as the third and final chapter of Mushi Productions' Animerama trilogy (a series of explicitly adult animated films that also included erotic riffs on "Cleopatra" and "A Thousand and One Nights").

Tezuka would drop out of the project during its primordial stages, leaving collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto alone at the wheel. The result is a sinister fairytale that feels like a psychedelic cartoon remake of the rape scene from "Rosemary's Baby," stretched (thin) to 85 minutes and filled with enough vaginal imagery to make Georgia O'Keeffe blush. All but buried for the last 40 years, the film has now been restored by Cinelicious Pictures, who have commissioned a 4K restoration from the original 35mm negative.

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