Belladonna of Sadness a Stunning and Repulsive Pioneer of Anime

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Belladonna of Sadness Blu-ray

BELLADONNA OF SADNESS is the acid dream of ASTRO BOY creator Osamu Tezuka. Directed by his collaborator, Eiichi Yamamoto, this psychedelic, psychosexual dose of cinematic psilocybin was, believe it or not, an early influence on much of the anime seen today, although in places it appears more like a violent porn version of YELLOW SUBMARINE meets WIZARDS.

The story is of Jean and Jeanne, two lovers who get married but cannot pay the tribute to the lord of the land. So he takes payment in the form of droit du seigneur. The violence of the act is probably more disturbing in its metaphorical depiction than any literal depiction could ever make it.

It is after this invasive injustice that Jeanne has a nighttime encounter with an imp (who looks like a bit of male anatomy), who seduces her and promises to give her the power she craves. She resists, but allows for just a little bit of power -- enough to save her ailing husband.

Soon, the overtaxed town realizes that Jeanne is the only one making money from selling thread -- enough that they're the only ones who can pay their taxes -- and her husband Jean is appointed the town tax collector. But regularly the imp returns to Jeanne, every time a little bit bigger. And every blessing bestowed upon her husband makes him a little more useless and worthless. After a time (and a war) Jeanne is driven from the village as a witch, and left for dead. However, she survives by giving herself to her imp -- who reveals himself to be Satan, and is now larger than a large man (although he retains his penis-like head instead of horns).

Jeanne meets the imp. BELLADONNA OF SADNESS
Imp Meets Girl. Jeanne's first introduction to Satan as something small in Osamu Tezuka's BELLADONNA OF SADNESS.

Jeanne continues to live in the woods, and learns the ways of nature, including a flower that seems to be a panacea -- the belladonna plant, which cures the Black Death, works as birth control, and gives comfort to the miserable. Soon the entire village is going out into the woods for dancing and feasting, which ends up in a kaleidoscopic orgy of Bacchic proportions. The people respect and fear her more than the lord of the land, and that's something that just can't stand.

The animation of BELLADONNA OF SADNESS is hit and miss. For the bulk of it, the images are static, ranging from photorealism to crude sketches, and the animation is a combination of zooming in on these images or panning across them. Alternately, there are scenes that are rapid-fire montages of cultural icons and innuendo, like the SESAME STREET pinball machine but with pornographic leanings. And the psychedelic scenes that take over the rites in the woods defy good taste (and the laws of physics).

The film bankrupted Mushi Production when it was made, and its memory has earned it a cult status. Cinelicious Pics has recovered the film and faithfully restored it into this Blu-ray format. The graphics and colors are lush, and the soundtrack is a funk/pop throwback to an "anything goes" era. Viewers will be simultaneously delighted and repulsed at the conflicting imagery, and fully engrossed in Jeanne's saga as she tries only to help people but continues to become further seduced by the power offered by the devil until she is eventually burned at the stake -- which is stylized as a crucifix. The moral of the story? Don't do drugs, kids.

4.0 / 5.0