The Other Side of Animation 53: Belladonna of Sadness Review

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MAJOR WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP: This film is in no way meant for children or teenagers. This is a very adult animated film with graphic violence, and scenes of consensual sex, sexual images, and graphic assault using abstract imagery. Do not see this movie with your kids. If you decide to see this movie, please do some research and look up all that you can about this movie to see if it might be your cup of tea. I don’t know what else to say, but you have been warned! Viewer’s discretion is definitely advised with this movie. Hope you enjoy the review!

We are heading into some rough waters ahead. We are looking at another explicit and sexual animated film known as Belladonna of Sadness. As with Fritz the Cat, there was a time in animation where animators and filmmakers got very, and I mean very, experimental with their budgets and filmmaking experiences. What we got were a lot of adult-oriented animated films with mature themes, social commentary, and quite frankly, a lot of sex. This is where you would find a lot of “cult classics”, and I don’t blame them for being so, but being good is on a whole other situation onto itself. Sometimes you see the depth of the story with its characters and themes, and other times, you find self-indulgent schlock that got made because the creators promised nudity, and Hollywood was excited. Luckily, for the few films that escape that trapping, you have some of the most unique film experiences around. So, where does Belladonna of Sadness land? Belladonna was part of a trilogy of adult anime films called Animerama. This series of films included One Thousand and One Nights and Cleopatra. This third film, unlike the first two, was also not brought over here until recently. It was even restored with eight additional minutes of footage that was cut from the rerelease of the film in Japan. It was directed by Eiji Yamamoto, who has worked on all three films and has worked with Osamu Tezuka on other projects including Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy, Odin, and Space Battleship Yamato. Though Osamu only worked on the first two, he was the one who put the wheels in motion for this trilogy of adult films. Yes, the creator of anime helped made three sexually-themed animated films. It’s really weird to see the contrast in themes and tone between Astro Boy and Belladonna of Sadness. So, does this film elevate itself into something ambitious and deserving of its praise? Or does it dissolve into some schlocky entertainment?

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The story stars our newlywed couple Jeanne and Jean. They go to the Lord of their kingdom to get the Lord’s prayer. Unfortunately, the Lord denies their request, and Jeanne is sexually deflowered and assaulted by the Lord and his lackeys. After such a traumatic and horrifying experience that no one deserves to have happen, Jeanne makes it back to Jean, scarred and forever changed. During the night, Jeanne gets visits from an evil spirit that offers, in exchange for pleasure, her power to get revenge on the scumbags that ruined her life. During the story, she gains enough power to obtain the support of the town to rebel against the Lord. Can she use her powers well, or will she be consumed by the powers of the evil spirit?

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I’m just going to be blunt right now with my opinion about this movie. If you do not like the sound of this movie because of the, quite frankly, delicate subject matter that’s hard to swallow, or if you have seen the film and do not like it for the same reasons I just mentioned, I 100% understand. This is one of the few times where I totally understand why you might or don’t like this movie. It’s definitely a tough film to sit through, and is probably the worst part about the film. It’s a revenge fantasy with a very, and I mean very, touchy subject. Sex and rape are fragile topics to use in stories, and you have to be extremely careful to execute it properly, or else it comes off as gimmicky or incredibly distasteful. It’s why I don’t fully respect animated films of this genre. They use sex as a means to get sloppy stories out there that gallivant around saying, “we have deep stories and commentary so the sex is part of the symbolism and the commentary!” It wants to be pro-feminist, and while some parts are done well, you have to keep reminding yourself of the horrific disturbing horrors that Jeanne had to go through to get these “pro-feminist” sequences. Also, for an animated film, it has very little animation. I can sort of understand if the fluid animation was used for artistic purposes, but this film is mostly panning shots over still images. I know this was 1973, but even then animation was starting to have fluid movement. Maybe because of the abstract art, but they have sequences where there is movement in the abstract art, so it’s confusing to know what kind of budget this film had. The film even ends on a still shot of the famous painting Liberty Leading the People. It works in the grand scheme of the film, but it’s a film with complex art that can be more distracting than focused.

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So, outside of the rough subject matter, what is good about this movie? Well, unlike a lot of films in this sub-genre of animation, I actually feel like it does this type of story and style of film the best. You want to make sure Jeanne gets back at the royal scumbags that ruined her life, and feel badly for what happened to her. You want to see her stand up to the society that ruined her, and you want the ones that screwed her over six feet underground.  I think why these types of films fail is because they focus so much on the shock and awe of having sexual themes and visuals, but forget to have a coherent story and likable characters that don’t learn a lesson or develop as characters.

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The animation and visuals are outstanding. For an animated film from 1973, this is one of the prettiest and visually abstract films I have ever seen. Sure, the animation itself is very limited, but when it does happen, it’s fluid, and looks better than most anime from that time period. I also adore how it doesn’t look like traditional Japanese animation. It doesn’t have any of the usual tropes you see with the art form, and it looks great. It also matches the visuals with a daunting and down tone. The atmosphere perfectly brings you into a world of dread and 70s acid trips. The studio that made this movie went all out to make the most challenging film of its time period. Fun fact, the studio that did make this movie actually went out of business because how ambitious Belladonna of Sadness was. It’s also partly a pro-feminist movie with how the female lead is going against authority, and how women were perceived at that time. Granted, I wish this came without the very touchy subject, and to me, it’s not the smoothest with its pro-feminist themes, but I still like that Jeanne was a very strong woman.

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Like I have mentioned above, if you cannot get into this film or don’t like it for its subject matter and story, I perfectly understand and won’t deny that this will have a very small appeal to people not into films and animation. I still very much enjoyed Belladonna of Sadness, and do plan on watching it again, and think it’s an ambitious piece of cinema. If you want to pick up a copy, you can get it on Blu-ray that comes with a cool little 16-page booklet. Well, now that we got this interesting piece of lost cinema out of the way, next time, we will be looking at Kubo and the Two Strings. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked the article, and see you all next time.

Rating: Go See It!!

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