The Other Side of Animation 53: Belladonna of Sadness Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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!!

The Other Side of Animation: Fritz the Cat: The Movie Review

(If you like what you see, go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work. If you want to, consider supporting my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. Enjoy the review!)

WARNING/PARENTAL HEADS UP!: There are major adult and sexual themes. Definitely do not watch this with kids that are younger. Viewer’s discretion is advised. Enjoy the review!

Yup, today we are going to dive into the creative, albeit crazy mind of one of the animation industry’s biggest names, Ralph Bakshi, and his first animated film, Fritz the Cat released in 1972. Directed by Ralph Bakshi himself, and based off the comic series by cartoonist Robert Crumb, Fritz the Cat is infamous for being the first animated film aimed directly at adults with the now-defunct X rating. During that period of time, the film was rather controversial with the themes it was covering. It was a financial success with a budget of one million dollars, and raked in a total of $90 million, making it one of the most profitable money-making indie films of all time. So, how does this film from 1972 age? Well, let’s find it out.

Instead of a sweeping three-part story, Fritz the Cat is about, well, Fritz the Cat, voiced by Skip Hinnant of The Electric Company fame. The overall movie is about his adventures with college life, sex, race relation, politics, and other themes that were prominent at that time period.

For the time, I can see why Fritz the Cat got so much acclaim. It was a daring piece of cinema. It’s an adult-only animated film that showed that not all animated films needed to be aimed at just children and families. It was pretty much the correct time to start experimenting with moviegoers since this was the era where Disney was not doing very well, and other animation studios came to fruition and made some memorable films that were both good and bad. The art style was also more adult, with what looks like an adult underground comic version of a Disney film with its talking animals and so on. The themes of the free love movement, race relations, religion, and politics are tackled, and for the time, this was very different since it was an animated film. It wasn’t some live-action low-budget exploitation flick, this was a hand-drawn animated feature with talking animals that represented the humans of said time. The overall cinematic experience paints a rather depressing image of a cynical impressionable time of the characters trying to find oneself and explore the world around them.

The animation is also pretty good for that time period. Don’t get me wrong, it still has its clunky/rough elements, but for a million-dollar budget, it looks solid. I enjoyed how the film didn’t really sound like it had a script. It felt like improvisational cinema. The actors may have had a script, but it all seemed very spontaneous. The way the characters talked, with the exception of Fritz’s rants at the beginning of pretentious college life, made it feel more natural in terms of the performances given.

Unfortunately, at least for me, the film is a major trainwreck when it comes to a flowing narrative and characters. Due to the story not really having a set path, and wanting to be this satirical take on all of these topics, the themes the film touches upon doesn’t have a satisfactory conclusion. As the movie went on, I found myself not caring about Fritz and his exploits. In fact, Fritz is a pretty unlikable character. Sure, I could see what was being brought up during each vignette, but at the same time, due to how the film is paced, I ended up losing interest. Even the ending, when you think Fritz would learn something from everything, he doesn’t. He started out as a hypocritical whiner that complained about how college life sucks, but then ends up acting like the very same people he hates just in order to bed the aloof female students. Speaking of aloof college students, the film does not paint college life in a very positive frame of mind. They make it feel like college kids are ostentatious and not very wise. They latch onto causes that they think is important and try to be philosophical with the cause, but don’t really think before they speak. The only character you follow and try to invest in is Fritz, and he is a pretentious, hypocritical, mean-spirited individual.

I know this film is labeled as a satirical take on events of the time, but Fritz the Cat is a mess. With an incoherent plot, unlikable characters, an unsatisfying ending, it isn’t a fully enjoyable film. Fritz the Cat needed focus and a better script to lead to a substantial end.  I will not discredit its place in history though, since that’s a bit nutty to do so. It would be like me saying that Akira didn’t do anything for Japanese animation or Final Fantasy VII didn’t change the mass appeal of Japanese-style RPGs here in the west. You don’t have to like them, but taking away their legacy is insulting. However, if you really want to see this X-rated film, well, there is nothing that I can do to stop you. It’s an interesting period piece of film making, but it doesn’t really hold up. There is a sequel to this film, but it doesn’t have Bakshi or the cartoon’s creator input at all, and it is one of the worst animated films I have ever seen. See Fritz the Cat as a curiosity, but there is no harm in seeing Bakshi’s other work like Wizards or American Pop. Well, Thanksgiving was upon us, so how about we check out a Thanksgiving-themed movie? I was thinking of maybe…Free Birds! Thanks for reading and see you next time!

Rating: Lackluster!