Belladonna of Sadness or Kanashimi no Belladonna is a movie which released in June, 1973. It’s inspired by the 1862 book La Sorcière by French historian Jules Michelet and was the final film in the Animerama trilogy conceived by Osamu Tezuka.
Now before I get to the movie I think I need to mention that the movie is R rated and it is honestly not for kids. The movie is very graphic and sexual. Belladonna of Sadness is an avant-garde movie and you can definitely tell the moment you start watching this movie. It is very different and unique from what we usually see from Anime and it can’t get compared to the anime which were released during that time. The entire movie is trippy, psychedelic and really crazy in general. If you have seen certain French Movies you know what to expect. But the surprising thing here is that it’s a Japanese production and it sure doesn’t feel like it is one. The art style is very unique and the way the characters are drawn, plus the setting makes everything look very european.
Not surprising considering it’s set in France. Before I dive in into the story I want to talk about the animation. This movie has very limited animation and most of the times you are just looking at one illustration, while hearing the characters talking. Sometimes you don’t even hear anything and the illustration is doing the talking. Now that’s not really a bad thing. Since the movie is very artistic and art in general doesn’t really age it still looks good.
It has a lot of watercolors illustrations, and to make the movie more dynamic they made use of zooms. I guess it did work to make the static illustration a bit more lively. The few animated scenes might not be on today’s standard, but even then it has many great animated scenes and you don’t need a 50 frames animation scene (which Anime doesn’t has anyway) to make something look amazing but there needs to be a meaning behind it. What do I want to express with this scene and so on. Belladonna of Sadness does a very good job when it comes to this, as it uses very graphic drawings and animation to express the feelings, strength, mentality, psychology and symbolism behind the scenes. I would lie if I say that I understood everything and there were many scenes where I was just sitting and thinking “What is happening ?”. But as the movie progress you will be able to understand more and more and specially the ending made it sure for me what the movie was trying to say.
From what I understood, Belladonna is about the history of witchcraft. It shows circumstances from this century and is critical in many ways. Like the church as an example. At the very beginning of the movie we see Jeanne getting rapped in the jus primae noctis ritual. It’s sick and disgusting that something like this could be legal. But this is just the beginning. Jeanne is getting visited from a penis shaped devil which portrays her rage for the society which keeps growing. But I don’t want to spoil too much. Important to mention is that the events here basically lead to the French Revolution. The name Jeanne was chosen because of Jeanne d’Arc. It’s probably supposed to be a different take on her. This movie is definitely not something everyone is going to enjoy though. For one the movie has a lot of sex scenes, which can be both disturbing and violent. For someone who can’t handle it, it might not be the best choice to watch this.
Talking about the Sound of the movie, you can definitely tell that it’s old. The quality of the voice is obviously not on today’s standard but since the movie wants to be taken seriously you won’t hear a high pitched girl shouting here but rather realistic voices with some really, disturbing scenes.
I don’t know if this was intended or it just couldn’t be helped because of the microphones back then but there are scenes where Jeanne’s shouting is almost unbearable to listen to. Otherwise the music (or the lack of music) helped to create a certain atmosphere and was used effectively.
Overall if you can handle all that and if you are ready to watch a movie which has limited animation and a very abstract art style you are probably going to enjoy this. It’s a trippy but beautiful movie which has a message behind it. It is a movie which you won’t forget and also has some good people working on this.