The beautiful peasant woman Jeanne is raped by a demonic overlord on her wedding night. Spurned by her husband, she has no outlet for her awakened libido, which develops to give her powers of witchcraft.
Kanashimi no Belladonna was inspired by the 1862 book La Sorcière (Satanism and Witchcraft) by French historian Jules Michelet. It is the third and final film in the Animerama trilogy conceived by Osamu Tezuka, but it is the only one to be neither written nor directed by him.
My city's only arthouse theater decided to play this 1973 anime movie recently. I went with a couple buddies and it was...an experience. I will now try explain my mixed feelings on this rather unique film.
This movie is sometimes called "the lost Tezuka masterpiece" although Osamu Tezuka actually left the project quite early in production. Kanashimi no Belladonna or "Belladonna of Sadness" was written and directed by Tezuka's longtime friend and collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto. Yamamoto worked with Tezuka on Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, as well as writing Space Battleship Yamato, the first Space Opera anime.
Belladonna of Sadness is an X-rated
avant garde telling of a Faustian melodrama set in medieval France. The anime is loosely based on a 19th century non-fiction book called "Satanism and Witchcraft" that posits that ritual witchcraft and Wicca were created to rebel against the patriarchal rule of the Church and Monarchy. The book also prominently featured erotic art by a French artist who went by the pseudonym Martin van Maële. The anime follows the book's example by having a LOT of trippy, psychedelic eroticism that frankly detracts more often than it adds to the film.
A poor farming couple named Jean and Jeanne are married in medieval France. However, they can't afford to pay the outrageously high "wedding tax" of their feudal lord, so the lord demands the right to gangbang Jeanne with his friends on her wedding night. As an aside, this practice was called "Droit du seigneur" and was alleged to have happened in real medieval France, although no hard evidence can be found and many historians believe it was a myth created hundreds of years later. Jeanne is emotionally devastated and her distress summons the Devil, who offers her power and revenge in exchange for her soul. Jeanne agrees at first to give the Devil her body, but not her soul. Satan accepts the offer after some truly bizarre sex and Jeanne gains the ability to spin beautiful fabric.
Jeanne is able to make enough money with her fabric to pay their lord's outrageous tax, so he makes her husband his official tax collector. However, this increase in wealth and power does nothing to improve their happiness. Jean isn't able to collect enough taxes from the peasants, so the lord cuts off his hand. Jean then becomes a miserable drunk. Jeanne is able to use her new gained powers to bewitch a greedy moneylender into giving her a large sum. She is able to give the evil lord the money he demands, but the evil lord's wife is jealous of Jeanne and plots revenge. The countess's Page slashes Jeanne's dress and the townsfolk all immediately decide to try rape her. Jean locks her out of the house and watches while the whole town rapes his wife! After Jean collected his award for "Cuck of the Year", Jeanne gets thrown in the dungeon to rot. She escapes the dungeon with the help of Satan and after reaching her breaking point, she finally agrees to give him her soul in exchange for revenge.
A plague ravages the town and many are killed. Jeanne returns to the town looking beautiful and offers a magical cure for the disease. She convinces the townspeople to rebel against the evil feudal lord and God. Jeanne even gets revenge on the Countess by charming her page into sleeping with the Countess and getting them both murdered by the lord. The lord offers to give her land and power, but she rejects these offers and says she wants "everything". The lord then has her burned at the stake in a scene reminiscent of French heroine Joan d'Arc. The worthless husband Jean finally rises against the lord, but is killed by his soldiers. The rest of the townsfolk cower in fear and Jeanne's rebellion is crushed at least for now. The story ends with French women leading the March on Versailles and stating that in France it is the women that lead revolutions. The End.
You will immediately notice that the art is NOTHING like most anime. The art in this 1973 anime actually seems to be inspired by 1960s European cartoons like Yellow Submarine from the UK and Bremen Town Musicians from the USSR. Eiichi Yamamoto is the one guy that left the theater after watching those movies and said, "This would be WAY better if everyone started fucking!" The animation is quite good for its time though and the surreal art can be quite impressive at points.
The music is often chaotic Bebop jazz. This unfortunately reminds me of Kite, the only other anime with wild saxophone solos while people bang. Occasionally though an ocarina will play accompanied by guitar and reminds me a LOT of the theme "Lonely Shepard" from Kill Bill. I spent at least 1/4th of this movie expecting a Tarantino bloodbath to occur at any minute.
While this movie certainly had strengths like strong animation, a solid soundtrack, and a unique premise...it falls a bit short of being a masterpiece in my opinion. The trippy sex scenes generally seemed like a desperate grab for attention instead of adding to the themes of the story. If this was a minor detail I would let it slide, but they take up around half the entire movie! If you want an elitist arthouse anime with tons of porno that will kick Europeans right in the childhood...this is your anime.
And the award to the most underrated anime of all time goes to a movie produced and realised in 1973, as part of a trilogy by the Manga God, Osuma Tezuka, who leave the proyect. Kanashimi no Belladoona is amovie that the 99,9% of the anime fandom never heard any about. It's really difficut to found it on internet, and that's without subtitles.
But it's a shame. Anime creators like Kuhiko Ikuhara, Utena and Penguindrum's creator, has admitted the influence of this movie. So, why is this film so unknown?
First of all, it's not a typical movie. It's an avant-garde movie, something you will notice just
saying the animation and art style. Forget the formula big eyes, small nose, the charecters are drawn here in a more european look-alike. The colors maybe brillaint and vivid in some scenes, or depressing in others, following the story and the sensations the movie show. The story takes place in the Middle Ages, in France, and the historical portrait is really accurate.
It's the story of Jeanne, a young woman who got the bad luck to born female and poor, and how she gets power, while the lords call her a witch, show us the oppressing situation that women has to live in that era. Searching for freedom and power, Jeanne become more and more an outcast fom the society that mistreat her, and build up aimge of a powerful, terryfing woman, a witch. The social criticize is just brillaint.
Yeah, there's sex in this story. We see an evolution, since the sex as weapon to oppress people that the Milord uses, til the sex as a way to break free, gain power or joint a soulmate.
With or without sex, Kanshimi no Belladonna is a movie that deserves more recognocition for explore themes as feminism, social hipocrisy, the use of religion as a way to oppress the population, and other ways too, and sexuality.
Kanashimi no Belladonna, literally translated as 'Belladonna of Sadness' or figuratively as 'The Tragedy of Belladonna' is an avant-garde feature film produced by Mushi Production and directed/co-written by Eiichi Yamamoto in 1973. It was loosely inspired by the 1862 book La Sorcière (Satanism and Witchcraft) by French historian Jules Michelet. It's also the third and final installment in the Animerama trilogy conceived by manga god Osamu Tezuka, but is the only one that was neither written nor directed by him.
This isn't your typical anime by any stretch of the imagination. The rating is listed as Rx, but rest assured it isn't intended to induce erotic
pleasure in any way, shape or form. It's a dark and twisted experimental sequence of art and storytelling that should be handled with care.
Belladonna of Sadness tells the tragedy of the beautiful peasant woman Jeanne who was raped by the land baron of her village on her wedding night after the couple failed to meet marriage taxes. Spurned by her husband, she decided to make a pact with the devil to gain wealth and power, but not without facing certain consequences. Jeanne becomes a suspect of witchcraft, and is subsequently banished from her village by the baron.
However, with the village quickly becoming swallowed by the cusp of the bubonic plague the baron is forced to change his heart. He summons Jeanne back and offers her the rank of highest noble in return for her to rescue them from despair with the mysterious flower she possessed. Regardless, Jeanne's motives were altered by her painful experiences, and she refused to accept such an offer.. which ultimately leads to her fate and the pinnacle of the film.
The final scene ends with an image of Eugène Delacroix's 'La Liberté guidant le people.' The painting features a female personification of liberty itself, leading a mixture of social classes during the French Revolution. In the film Jeanne finds herself in a similar position, and her impact on society can be compared with that of Joan of Arc, Salem witch trials, and several prominent women in history.
This story is depicted rather well throughout the duration of the film and is often told metaphorically with symbolism rather than figuratively with speech. The nature of it is widely subjective, but certainly compelling nonetheless. I believe it's most rewarding with an open mind.
The characters aren't a strong aspect of the film. The only truly memorable character is Jeanne, but like the others she lacks any real development. This doesn't hinder the experience in the end, because the characters were never really intended to be a centerfold. They merely exist as a route of administration for the lessons and morals lurking in the shadows of the film.
Jeanne's character in particular appears to represent feminism, and relates to a myriad of prominent women throughout history. Especially when considering her comparison with Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc).
Michelet's book La Sorcier which inspired Belladonna of Sadness arguably depicts the story of Joan of Arc, and portrays her resistance against feudalism and the Catholic Church. The similarities with Jeanne can be seen most in the final scenes of the film.
The visuals are reminiscent of watercolor paintings and heavily influenced by western art. It often hangs in limbo between realism and surrealism, and surely isn't considered typical. The quality is fair considering it was produced in the 70s. It's also pending the release of a 4k restoration that will greatly enhance the clarity and colors.
The animation suffers greatly where the art shines. Many of the scenes are depicted by panning across still paintings rather than being animated. This could be seen as a matter of style or budget, but it definitely could've benefited from consistency. Regardless, I think the animation can be forgiven considering the era it was produced.
The music is as funky as the era it came from and varies greatly from the Rock Opera to Psychedelic genre and beyond. It's almost always fitting, and creates indescribable emotions that go hand in hand with the images on screen.
A belladonna is a highly toxic flower, which also stands for 'beautiful woman.' In the past, witches were believed to use a mixture of belladonna and other plants in flying ointment, which they applied to help them fly to gatherings with other witches. A theory for the inclusion of belladonna in flying ointments concerns the dream-like waking state it produces.
Much of the scenes in the film are depicted as if the viewer was under the influence of the belladonna flower. Similar to the flower, the film itself can also be interpreted from many different perspectives.
In my eyes Belladonna of Sadness holds significant implications regarding sexuality, feminism, religion, and history. It presents a thought provoking succession of metaphorical imagery far ahead of its time, and I won't ever forget the impact it had on me.
This is nothing groundbreaking, nothing that will change your world, but it is a fun little psychedelic trip. The few iconic scenes alone, such as her rape early on, leave enough that it is enjoyable even if it is a bit lacking in substance.
The art here is interestingly animated. The colors are always interesting to watch, and the animation mostly manages to be coherent despite the psychedelic nature. It is not always especially fluid, and I think that is what it has the hardest time balancing in a way that is totally watchable. I liked the art the most when the fluidity was best, but
it is still nice to look at a lot of the time when it pauses, especially on any beautiful looks of Jeanne. I like the disparity between Jeanne's beauty and everybody else; it lends a real power to her character development.
Jeanne's character as a typically frightfully powerful woman is interestingly played out here - she has a downfall not once, but twice! Jeanne's inability to rely on her husband or anyone at all, despite helping them out, makes her a nice tragic character in these downfalls. The baron is all right for an evil role, especially with how he is drawn, but his wife seems to be an especially weak character, suffocating story and enjoyment any time she is present.
The story is weak, and not because it leaves you guessing, but rather because it just cannot be told enough with the focus on the art. Since the art does spend a lot of time in psychedelic mode, taking minutes to flesh out basic ideas, it cannot really play up aspects of the story that it could otherwise. This also means that you are left guessing about a lot of aspects of the story.
The sound is not amazing, but is pretty much always enjoyable, especially if you like typical hard rock and psychedelic rock sounds. This spends more time sounding like early Deep Purple, but it also manages to sound like early Pink Floyd too. At the end it even adopts a sound like Ecstasy of Gold, but in a more Japanese style. It never excels in any of these modes, but it is never bad in any of them either, and nearly always compliments the art and story well
Overall, this is a rather "indulgent" work to watch, rather than something whose story or action you can simply sit back and let overawe you. If you are bored of typical anime and manga, however, this might be a nice little indulgent break.
This summer, American arthouse theaters screen one of the craziest anime films ever made, an erotic pseudo-historical musical acid trip produced by Osamu Tezuka in 1973. Learn about what makes Belladonna of Sadness a one-of-a-kind experience. Content Warning: discussion of sexual violence