I found I had a really tough time deciding how to start this post. How does one even explain Belladonna of Sadness? Pardon my French, but it's fucking bizarre. Produced by Osamu Tezuka and directed by Eiichi Yamamoto in 1973, this Japanese animated gem is striking; equal parts erotic, beautiful, and disturbing. Keep in mind this was made by the same director who did KIMBA THE WHITE LION. A Japanese children's show that Disney later used as the basis (or carbon copy) to the Lion King. Excuse me? It's totally baffling these two things came from the same director. Can we all pause and appreciate what a curveball that is?
Right so, let's talk about this the best we can since there's a lot going on and you just kind of gape at the screen for an hour and thirty three minutes. In summation, a young woman and her fiance are totally in love and on their wedding night she gets raped by the town lord. Lots of tears and trauma ensue (naturally), and she decides to make a pact with a rather phallic devil in order to take revenge. When I say "rather" I mean things are pretty obvious. "You're so small!" She exclaims as she holds him in her hands. A couple rubs later and whaddya know, he's grown. In fact, this whole movie is basically a psychedelic sexual romp. It's rather interesting and beautiful to watch, a mixture of watercolours and stills and very vivid imagery.
A plethora of colours, oddly enough I left the movie thinking, "well, that was rather depressing." It's a story about a woman extensively repressed and exploited by a feudal society. Her name is Jeanne, and her fate is eerily similar to that of Joan of Arc's. Coincidence? Hmm. The film also walks a very dangerous line between being over-the-top pornographic and beautifully animated. This is supposed to be uncomfortable. This is supposed make you feel uneasy. It's avant-garde and I like it.
Jeanne is also GORGEOUS. Oddly enough I don't think I've ever been so attracted to an animated being. A long and slender frame with big eyes and voluminous hair that I can only dream of having, Jeanne is perfection. Especially after she gets her revenge on the town lord and a little bit, ahem, riled up, does she become even more interesting. For whatever reason her hair changes colour in every scene too. Go figure.
Also to note, THE MUSIC. A crazy psychedelic rock score produced by Masahiko Satoh, in combination with the practically seizure inducing scenes, is such an obvious '70s delight. As I'm typing this I'm coyly smiling too since everyone knows exactly what I'm talking about and it's actually pretty cool to watch. Even go see it just for that.
I was lucky enough to view this for the first time since it was released to North American audiences a few weeks ago. I can see how this may not sit well with a modern-day crowd as it's really weird in some of the scenes not to mention with flashing colours making it look like a massive acid trip. Besides all that though, it's a film that really speaks to the merging of Western and Eastern influences. As if one applied watercolours to the illustrative genius of Beardsley mixed with the producer being an anime legend, this movie is like nothing I've seen before. Tragically, shortly after the release of this movie, the production house that created it, Mushi, went bankrupt. It's nice to see it's finally getting it's spot in the in the limelight, even if it's at least from the die-hard movie buffs out there.
Are you going to like Belladonna of Sadness? I'm really not sure. Honestly, I don't even know if I liked it. I respect it for what it is, and I think it's a landmark of Japanese cinema. It's something that I definitely believe should be watched, if anything for the cultural significance it has.