BELLADONNA OF SADNESS
KANASHIMI NO BELLADONNA
1973, Arbelos Films, 89 min, Japan, Dir: Eiichi Yamamoto

One of the great lost masterpieces of Japanese animation, this mad, swirling, psychedelic light-show is equal parts J.R.R. Tolkien and Gustav Klimt-influenced eroticism. The last film in the groundbreaking Animerama trilogy produced by manga godfather Osamu Tezuka, and directed by his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (ASTRO BOY and KIMBA THE WHITE LION), BELLADONNA unfolds as a series of spectacular still watercolor paintings that bleed and twist together. An innocent young woman (Aiko Nagayama) is assaulted by the local lord on her wedding night, and to take revenge makes a pact with the Devil (Tatsuya Nakadai), who transforms her into a black-robed vision of madness and desire. Fueled by a mind-blowing Japanese psych-rock soundtrack by Masahiko Satoh, BELLADONNA has been newly restored from the original 35mm camera negative and sound elements and is a major rediscovery for animation fans.


KILL!
KIRU
1968, Janus Films, 114 min, Japan, Dir: Kihachi Okamoto

In this pitch-black action comedy, a pair of down-on-their-luck swordsmen arrive in a dusty, windblown town, where they become involved in a local clan dispute. One, previously a farmer, longs to become a noble samurai. The other, a former samurai haunted by his past, prefers living anonymously with gangsters. But when both men discover the wrongdoings of the nefarious clan leader, they side with a band of rebels under siege at a remote mountain cabin. Based on the same source novel as Akira Kurosawa’s SANJURO, KILL! playfully tweaks samurai film convention, borrowing elements from established chanbara classics and seasoning them with a little Italian Western.


SWORD OF DOOM
DAIBOSATSU TOGE
1966, Janus Films, 120 min, Japan, Dir: Kihachi Okamoto

Director Kihachi Okamoto made a slew of great films, including KILL!, DESPERADO OUTPOST, AGE OF ASSASSINS, SAMURAI ASSASSIN and THE HUMAN BULLET – to name only a few! – but his ultimate masterwork is this uncompromising samurai film. It is a riveting, desolate picture, anchored by a mesmerizing portrayal from Tatsuya Nakadai as paranoid killer Ryunosuke Tsukue, an outcast from his family and a hunted man recruited by the notorious Shinsengumi band of assassins. There have been many movie renditions of Kaizan Nakazato’s popular novel The Great Boddhisatva Pass since it first appeared 70-plus years ago, but Okamoto’s version in ashen black-and-white ’Scope best captures the nihilistic netherworld of the sociopathic swordsman. Masaru Sato’s music is at the pinnacle of a multitude of great Japanese movie scores from the 1960s. The supporting cast, including Toshiro Mifune, Michiyo Aratama and Yuzo Kayama, are all excellent. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto (who co-wrote many of Akira Kurosawa’s masterpieces) provides an expert distillation, going back


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