FILM CORNER - Animerama: The Successes (and Failures) of Osamu Tezuka's Adult Aimed Anime Project
In the last five years, anime fans have seen the return of a well-known trilogy of films that were aimed for an adult audience that were originally the brainchild of Osamu Tezuka, who created Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion. In 2015, we saw the restoration and re-release of one of the three films, and this year, the other two films received Blu-ray releases from Discotek Media. This trilogy of adult-aimed anime films were referred to by another name: the Animerama series.
The films of Animerama were produced at Tezuka's Mushi Productions, and released from 1969 to 1973. The films (in order of release) were A Thousand and One Nights, Cleopatra, and Belladonna of Sadness.
A Thousand and One Nights, released in 1969 and directed by Eiichi Yamamoto, focuses on Aldin and his adventures. At the beginning, we see him fall in love with a slave girl named Miriam, but eventually goes one different adventures that are based on several stories within the original text that inspired the film after she dies from childbirth. When the film was released, it was a critical and commercial success. It also received an English dub (even though this particular version was edited down to 100 minutes from its original 128 minute runtime).
After the success of A Thousand and One Nights, Mushi Productions produced and released Cleopatra in 1970 (this time, directed by both Tezuka and Yamamoto). This film was loosely (and I do mean "loosely") based on the Queen of Egypt herself. However, this film is a horse of a different color as it has a mixture of sci-fi based on its intro and outro set in a distant future (which has a strange hybrid of animation and live-action), and there are moments where modern day items (such as guns and cars, no joke) are present within a time based in the very late B.C. era. Unlike its predecessor, the film was a critical failure and a box office bomb. This caused Mushi Productions to fall into the threat of bankruptcy, and not even a subtitled release of the film here in the States helped as audiences were tricked of thinking that this film was a straight on porno.
The final film in the series (and personally my favorite as I will explain in a bit) was Belladonna of Sadness, released in 1973 and based on La Sorciere by Jules Michelet. Unlike the first two films, this film is presented with still imagery and very limited animation as an avant-garde film. Tezuka had no involvement with this project as he went on to create a new animation studio after the failure of Cleopatra. However, Yamamoto took in the creative reigns, and made the project visually experimental (which I give him a lot of praise for). The film itself focuses on Jeanne and how she becomes a witch from making a deal with the Devil after being violently raped by the local baron and his courtiers. Sadly, despite getting screened at the Berlin International Film Festival, the film was a box office bomb, and Mushi Productions eventually went bankrupt and had to shut down after its release. But, this doesn't mean that it didn't get a second chance. In 2015, the film was restored and re-released by Cinelicious Pics, and it got critically praised years after its original release.
I highly recommend the Animerama series if you consider yourself either an animation or Anime historian or fan. I will say that each film has their moment of weirdness, but I still recommend giving them a watch.