Last Saturday, at a screening of the 1973 psychedelic anime masterpiece Belladonna of Sadness, illustrator Renato Rivera Rusca confirmed that the director of Belladonna of Sadness had passed away earlier this month on September 7. Although Eiichi Yamamoto produced several gems over the course of his career, Belladonna of Sadness remains the apotheosis of his artistic trajectory.
Told through stunning visual spectacles, Belladonna of Sadness is a beautiful meditation on mysticism and female liberation. It tells the story of a female peasant who is subjected to physical and emotional torture but gains agency over her destiny by utilising the power of witchcraft which generates more problems than ever before.
A few years ago, Cinelicious handled the restoration of this lost gem. Lead restoration artist Craig Rogers commented: “A lot has changed since 1973. That said, Belladonna of Sadness still pushes things pretty far… It is an ‘art film,’ but it also has a coherent and important story to tell. Along with the astounding artwork, there’s a tremendous amount going on thematically. Questions of ‘what is evil?,’ the corrupting influence of power, and feminism.”
Caitlin Díaz, the colourist who worked on the remastered version, said: “While Belladonna may have gotten lost in the mix of psychedelic cinema of the ’70s, I feel that its rerelease will not only capture the interest of animation aficionados, but also find a new audience in those who seek films that go beyond the norm of our era.”
Adding, “Our restoration really breathes new life into this lost film. By celebrating Kuni Fukai’s intricately hand-drawn artwork and Masahiko Satoh’s brilliant original score, we are sharing a film that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also layered with themes of power, gender politics, and history. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what people think of Belladonna forty-plus years after its original release.”
As was predicted, the perfect restoration of Belladonna of Sadness introduced many new viewers to the psychedelic universe of Eiichi Yamamoto. In retrospect, Yamamoto was one of the key influences on the evolution of Japanese animation and Belladonna of Sadness will always be remembered as the mesmerising masterpiece that acted as the exigent catalyst.