Viddy Well Recommends: Belladonna Of Sadness
Article by Aaron Haughton
Belladonna Of Sadness is a jaw-dropping wonder, dripping with graphic violence and sex, stunning psychedelia, and fantastical otherness. Made in 1973, which may be surprising given it's very 60s feel, it was a commercial failure due to the collapse of the production studio Mushi Productions, which was once headed by manga artist, Osamu Tezuka (who had departed from the studio prior to the production of Belladonna to focus on his comics). However, the film found its audience in the underground and began to get the attention it rightly deserves.
The narrative centers on happy newlyweds Jean and Jeanne, who marry in the film's opening. Their happiness, however, is very short-lived, as they must then visit the village's terrifying baron to pay the offering for their union. Jean and Jeanne are poor and are unable to pay the incredibly high price the baron requests, and as a result, the baron savagely takes Jeanne's virginity, which is customary in their culture. The portrayal of this act in the film is devastating, yet captivating, and succeeds in making you feel as Jeanne feels -- violated, torn apart, destroyed -- as a red pulse begins to cut through her, ripping her to oblivion and churning into a swarm of bats that devour the screen with its redness.
This crushes the souls of both the central characters and you as the viewer, which helps build up the tremendous rollercoaster of a revenge tale that is to follow. Shortly after Jeanne's night with the baron, she is visited by the devil and sells her soul for otherworldly power, which she uses to lead a rebellion in the village before being deemed as a witch. Though the story is undisputedly a tragedy, it manages to morph from victimization to empowerment with surprising force, building into a rousing and powerful statement of femininity and liberation. The animation is often very minimal, sweeping pans and tilts of vivid watercolor and stencil scenes, with animation interspersed throughout, usually breaking way into spellbinding psychedelic montages. This hidden gem is one of the best adult cartoons ever to grace the world and is definitely worthy of your time.
Rating: 5 soul-selling witches out of 5.
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