Okay so, where to start…
Among all the genre of film, I have the highest respect for animation and for people who make them. In my opinion, it is by far the most visually arresting medium to make films in and with the right people and tools, the possibilities are endless.
Enter, Belladonna of Sadness. A 1973 surreal animated film loosely inspired by the novel, Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet
I have seen quite a few animated films. From Pixar to Studio Ghibli to classics like Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Perfect Blue but I don’t think that I have ever come across a film quite like this before. The story follows a young couple in France during the middle ages, Jeane and Jeanne. They are young and madly in love, and visit the lord of the village to receive his blessing. But it turns out to be the beginning of her long nightmare. She is viciously and shockingly gang raped by the lord and his cohorts in a scene that is beautiful, ingenious, shocking and horrifying.
Broken, she goes home, vowing revenge and is aided by the devil himself, who appears to her as a small phallic looking sprite and throughout the course of the film “grows” in size as the film goes on and Jeanne submits herself further to him.
Directed by Eiichi yamamoto, a frequent collaborator to Osamu Tezuka, Belladonna is a beautiful film. The intricately delicate art work by Kuni Fukai who single handedly did majority of the animation frames went with a different route with this film. The camera often times pans across a very large still image with music and narration with either one or few elements animated. Apparently, the intention was to evoke the ancient Japanese picture scrolls.
Most of the story is told through songs and very little actual dialogue. The rest is told by the visuals. As Jeanne submits herself more towards Satan, she gains powers in return and helps her village through the spread of Black Death and becomes a very rich woman. She helps the lord wage a war but her increasingly growing powers makes her the lord’s rival.
There isn’t much story here, if it was animated the usual way, the film would have lasted no more than 40 minutes, but you don’t watch Belladonna for the story, you want to watch it for its lavishly painted visuals and its almost hallucinatory splendor.
Belladonna of Sadness is definitely one of the landmarks of animated films. Its daring use of shocking imagery, an unusual method of animation and daring use of sexuality was almost unheard of at that time and still is. It is not for the faint of heart and will leave you with a feeling of discomfort. But, it is one of those films that any film fan must watch it at least once.
It is currently available for streaming through Amazon Prime. I highly urge you all to do check it out.