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Belladonna Of Sadness Main

Belladonna Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Finders Keepers Records

belladonna of sadness poster large

Composed by Satō Masahiko
1973, 33 minutes
Released on May 22nd, 2020 (repress of 2015 version)

Review:

In the summer of 2016, the esteemed Music Box Theater in Chicago screened a 4k restoration of the 1973 animated feature, Belladonna of Sadness (哀しみのベラドンナ, Kanashimi no Bella-donna). As the screen lit up with surrealist images of horrific violence, patrons walked out. This is a difficult movie.

Belladonna of Sadness is a rape and revenge story with supernatural elements that is loosely based on Jules Michelet’s 1862 novel, La Sorcière (AKA Satanism and Witchcraft). In the late 1800s, a young couple, Jeanne and Jean, are to be married in their native France. Their life of happiness is shattered when their feudal lord demands ritualistic deflowering of the bride. From here, the movie follows Jeanne in the aftermath as she aligns herself with the devil and reclaims her identity.

The story serves to support the movie’s astonishing sounds and visuals. Belladonna of Sadness is as gorgeous as it is grotesque. Ukiyo-e art styles bleed into anime watercolors and combine with the symbolism and expressionism. Still images alternate with moving pictures. Sketches similar to the work of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele pan across the screen. Bursting colors swirl and pop like liquid light productions of the 1960s.

Just as those ‘60s light shows were best paired with musical performances, the dazzling visuals from Belladonna of Sadness are supported by a rich and fluid soundtrack. Masahiko Satoh’s music ebbs and flows with the movement on screen. The music is a psych-rock, free-jazz freak-out; a kaleidoscope of sound. Bass noodling and guitar improvisation swish against more orga-nized song structures. Dramatic melodies hit and reprise. This intentionally defined structure opposite the free-flowing sounds build a world of trippy mayhem.

Churchlike organs launch the record. Keys meander in a drunken stupor while drum rolls tumble in and out. The first three-fourths sound like a blurry fog. A quick tonal shift occurs toward the end of the track as the tempo changes and the beats slip into a bar of hissy high-hats and trail-blazing keyboards. The sound is distinctly late '60s / early '70s, almost to a fault. (The soundtrack definitely sounds of its time.) The track titled “Belladoona” comes next. This track is standout because of Mayumi Tachinana’s eloquent singing. While her presence humanizes the music, it’s still underlined by a multicolored haze as mesmerizing keyboards and drug-fueled guitar bend and bleed into otherworldly, psychedelic sounds. The LSD trip continues throughout the album. It feels comfortable and dreamlike, but not quite safe. It’s as if the floor could give way at any moment.

belladonna of sadness 01

For fans of ‘70s psychedelica, the music is great. Despite this, there are a couple small issues with this release. Some of the songs are titled with names that have nothing to do with the film. This may seem superficial on the surface, but it isn’t. Song titles are important. They give infor-mation that ties into the overall experience for the listener. So tracks like, “Andy Warhol” or “Mr. London” invoke mental imagery that betrays the music and the movie.

This version of the soundtrack is strictly a Satō Masahiko record, so “Main Theme” and “Main Theme (Reprise)” by Asei Kobayashi and Mayumi Tachibana are omitted. While some listeners may appreciate the album’s consistency generated from a single composer, others may be let down because the highest profile tracks are missing.

For such a visually oriented movie, there isn’t much happening with the album artwork. There is no gatefold, and the vinyl is sleeved in flimsy, high-gloss cardboard. The bulk of the back cover is text. This mostly leaves one panel – the front cover – for art. This is a missed opportunity.

That said, the one image they use is a good one. The focal point of the cover is an illustration of Jeanne and Jean. They are surrounded by bursts of color blots; reds, blues, violets, and pinks. Within the busy field of popping color is an outline of the couple’s wedding. It’s tragic in its hope-fulness.

The majority of the back cover is an essay by musician Jim O’Rourke (who is probably best known for his time with the band Sonic Youth). It’s comprehensive and well written. He shares the history of the production of the film and the music, touches on collector culture, and writes about the records reissuing. Those interested in music history may learn a lot from O’Rourke’s essay. It’s a long piece and every word is fascinating.

For years, this album was almost impossible to find. Only the most devoted record collectors had a mint copy of the original 1975 release. (At the time of this review, that version is currently selling on Discogs for nearly $3,000.) But then, in 2015, after decades of scarcity, Finders Keepers, in collaboration with Satō Masahiko, re-released the music. It quickly sold out.

In May of 2020, Finders Keepers reissued the album again. There were three versions available: An extremely limited edition version with a hand-painted sleeve, a blue and pink splatter vinyl, and a standard black LP. This review covers the blue and pink edition. The colors of the record tie nicely to the aesthetic of the film. The wax has a hefty feel to it. Sound quality is mostly clean with just a trace of background noise.

The strange track titles, the missing songs, and the skimpy artwork mean that this release isn’t perfect. But the compositional quality of this music overcomes any of these shortcomings. The score for Belladonna of Sadness enhances the vivid sensory experience when paired with the film. But on its own, it’s still a treat. Without the weight of the movie, the horror slips away, the world softens, and the listener slips into Satō Masahiko’s deep hallucinogenic groove.

Grades:

Music: Fourstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Art: Threestars
Packaging: Threestars
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

About The Author
Richie Corelli
Staff Writer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it.

Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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