The 1973 Japanese animated feature "Belladonna of Sadness" is receiving a belated U.S. debut in in a newly restored version. The film is the third part of Osamu Tezuka's "Animerama" trilogy, which was intended to introduce more adult content into animation. But Tezuka neither wrote nor directed it: Eiichi Yamamoto, a veteran of Tezuka's Mushi Productions, directed the film and co-wrote it with Yoshiyuki Fukuda, basing it on "La Sorcière" by Jules Michelet.
Jeanne (Aiko Nagayama), a beautiful peasant woman, marries Jean (Takao Ito) for love. Raped and beaten by the evil Milord (Masaya Takahashi) and his attendants, she accepts a proposition from Satan (Tatsuya Nakadai), who appears to her in the guise of a phallic. She becomes a witch who foments a spirit of rebellion among the oppressed peasants; her example inspires women to join the French Revolution.
"Belladonna" contains very little animation: Most of the film consists of camera moves over watercolor paintings while dialogue, narration and music play on the soundtrack. Although the visuals were reportedly inspired by Gustav Klimt paintings, they look more like '70s album covers and Playboy cartoons, with touches borrowed from "Yellow Submarine" and Pavao Stalter's "The Masque of the Red Death." The paintings simply aren't strong enough to hold the audience's attention and carry the story.
"Belladonna of Sadness" is an interesting curiosity from the early days of modern anime, but material that may have seemed daring and adult in the era of Disney's "Robin Hood" and "Snoopy, Come Home" looks exploitative and misogynistic 43 years later.
'Belladonna of Sadness'
Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes