Jeanne (Aiko Nagayama) is a peasant woman who has just been Happily Married to Jean (Katsutaka Ito). They can't pay the absurdly high marriage tax, so the baron (Masaya Takahashi) sees fit to have his way with her.
When she returns home, she is seduced by the Devil (Tatsuya Nakadai) and finds herself gradually turning to witchcraft to find empowerment and freedom. At first, she and her husband are prosperous, but as famine, war, and The Black Death strike the rest of the village, suspicion grows and she is eventually cast out of the village. She wins the villagers over when she offers a miracle cure for The Black Death, but then the nobility catches wind of her power...
Belladonna of Sadness (Kanashimi no Belladonna, also known as The Tragedy of Belladonna) is an avant-garde anime film made in 1973, and the final installment in the Mushi Productions' Animerama trilogy that was started by A Thousand & One Nights. Inspired by... Jules Michelet's non-fiction book, Satanism and Witchcraft (or La Sorcière), the film was directed by Osamu Tezuka's disciple, Eiichi Yamamoto, and produced by Tezuka's studio, Mushi Productions.
Although the film was initially a commercial failure, it has gained some recognition in anime circles for its experimental animation, which is full of beautifully painted still images, Gustav Klimt Art Nouveau inspired imagery and heavily stylized depictions of sex. The film also inspired Kunihiko Ikuhara to work in anime, and its visual and thematic influences can be seen in Revolutionary Girl Utena.
Released in 2016 with theatrical and home video re-release in North America, the official and Red Band trailers can be found here and here. It has also been broadcast, uncensored, late nights on Turner Classic Movies.
Belladonna of Sadness provides examples of:
- Animation Bump: It's rather an animation earthquake when the slide-show "animation" is suddenly replaced by a full-animated psychedelic extravaganza during the Deal with the Devil. In general, the sex scenes are intricately animated while the non-sex plot-moving scenes are Limited Animation or The Ken Burns Effect. There are also dramatic moments where the animation becomes absurdly fluid. The juxtaposition between still frames and moments like these is both jarring and effective.
- An Arm and a Leg: The baron makes Jean the official tax collector for regularly paying his taxes, but during the war, he can't squeeze anything more from the peasantry. As punishment, the baron has Jean's left hand chopped off.
- Artistic License History: The page shields the baroness with a modern-day umbrella despite the Middle Age setting.
- Back from the Dead: A villager comes back to life once Jeanne heals him from The Black Death to the shock of his fellow peasants. His recovery leads the rest of the village to follow Jeanne and her witchcraft.
- Barefoot Poverty: Jeanne never has any shoes in the beginning because she and her husband, Jean, are farmers with only one cow which they sold for offerings to the baron). It transitions to Does Not Like Shoes as she's still barefoot when she becomes the town moneylender.
- Bittersweet Ending: Jeanne gets burned at the stake and Jean dies trying to rescue her, but it's heavily implied the rebellion against the upper class and social norms that she started will live on.
- The Black Death: Jeanne sets out to save the villagers from the black death but it turns out to be a bad idea.
- Broken Aesop: The film's feminist credentials feel undercut by the constant sexual violence Jeanne endures, coupled with its fondness for long, lingering pans up and down her frequently naked body.
- Broken Bird: It's more Jean that's the broken one than Jeanne. She is broken after her gang rape but quickly gets her bearings back after meeting the Devil. He, on the other hand, almost strangles his wife after getting cuckolded, and from then on, he's rarely sober. His behavior gets worse after she becomes the main money earner and he gets his left hand chopped off for not collecting enough taxes.
- Burn the Witch!: The baron has Jeanne burned on a cross-shaped stake. Her husband, Jean, tries to rescue her, but he ends up turned into a Human Pincushion.
- But for Me, It Was Tuesday: The baron doesn't seem to remember torturing Jeanne and Jean.
- Clothing Damage: When Jeanne flees from the village, her cloak and tunic are gradually ripped apart until she reaches the wilderness completely nude.
- Couple Theme Naming: Jeanne and her husband Jean.
- Crucified Hero Shot: The baron has Jeanne burned on a cross-shaped stake.
- Deal with the Devil: Jeanne makes a series of deals with the Devil to gain increasing material and magical power until she finally sells her soul to him, has sex with him, and becomes a Hot Witch.
- Deranged Animation: The film could be considered a Trope Maker for this trope in anime, since Kunihiko Ikuhara, the creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena, was directly inspired by it:
- The sex scenes, especially Jeanne's rape—which begins with a white silhouette of her body being torn in half through the crotch—are packed with surreal and often disturbing imagery.
- The "transformation scene" in which Jeanne sells her soul to the Devil with some vigorous sex is particularly surreal and even visually quotes Yellow Submarine.
- Downer Ending: Jeanne is burned alive, Jean is killed during his attempt to save her, and the rest of the village is cowed into submission to the Baron. However...
- Droit du Seigneur: Jean is unable to pay the exorbitantly high marriage tax to the baron, leading the baron and his entire castle to gang rape his wife, Jeanne, as substitute payment.
- Emerald Power: Green is said to be the Devil's color. After he gives her the ability to make a highly desired thread to sell, Jeanne becomes the town moneylender and goes around in a green cloak, which makes the townspeople suspicious of her.
- Erotic Film: The film is a deeply bizarre anime film about a formerly innocent young woman who makes a Deal with the Devil, which involves sex with him, and becomes a Hot Witch. Lots and lots of anime sex is had.
- Feudal Overlord: The baron is a sadistic rapist who taxes his townspeople to near starvation and indulges in Droit du Seigneur.
- Gainax Ending: As Jeanne is crucified and burned, the faces of the women watching her all turn into the faces of Jeanne. The end title card displays a statement about how women lead the French Revolution over the image of Liberty Leading the People.
- Healing Herb: After her final Deal with the Devil to become a Hot Witch, Jeanne can use the belladonna plant to cure all manner of illnesses and make magical potions.
- Horny Devils: The Devil literally looks like a penis and grows larger the more he has sex with Jeanne. That said, he's portrayed as less of a seducer and more of a thuggish rapist, little better than the baron.
- Hot Witch: Jeanne makes a Deal with the Devil that turns her into a witch and a Shameless Fanservice Girl with a habit of starting orgies. She's actually put out by this, telling him that she would rather have been made an ugly crone in true Wicked Witch style. But no, the Devil leaves her beauty fully intact.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
- The coupling between the page and the mind-controlled baroness ends with both of them impaled on the same sword after they're caught mid-coitus.
- Karma Houdini: The baron receives literally no comeuppance at all for his gang rape of Jeanne, ultimately burning Jeanne at the stake, suppressing the rebellious townspeople, and continuing to reign virtually unopposed. The baroness does cheat on him with the page, causing him to murder them both, but even that doesn't seem to trouble him much.
- Karma Houdini Warranty: The Baron has Jeanne gang raped in a Droit du Seigneur when she and her husband, Jean, can't pay an absurdly high marriage tax, chops off Jean's hand when he can't pay more taxes, and finally has her burned at the stake, and is unpunished when the movie ends and the rest of the village is cowed into submission to the Baron. Of course, her actions are heavily implied to kickstart The French Revolution, and the Baron will most likely a meet a bloody but fitting end.
- The Ken Burns Effect: The film takes Limited Animation to its logical extreme, as much of the film is simply a camera panning and zooming around still drawings.
- Le Film Artistique: Often considered as an art film, with its psychedelic visuals and Mind Screw plot.
- Limited Animation: A significant portion of the movie is made of either still images or pans over paintings.
- Love Potion: The page gets Jeanne to make him a love potion so he can have sex with the baroness. It ends badly for the page and the baroness when the baron catches them.
- Mind Screwdriver: The symbolism makes a bit more sense if you've read Satanism and Witchcraft. For instance, the eight-minute "Schoolhouse Rock" sequence refers to the book's claim that as part of their Deal with the Devil, witches received all knowledge of past, present, and future.
- Ms. Fanservice: Jeanne is a beautiful girl who's never had any shoes and is fully or partially naked more often than not. She's such foot fetish material that in one scene of her gang rape, one of her rapists is playing with her toes. And then there are her various erotically charged encounters.
- No Name Given: The baron, the baroness, and the page have no name given.
- Nude Nature Dance: Jeanne kicks off the village orgy by dancing nude with magical, healing flowers.
- A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Jeanne's return to the town with a resurrected Michel and the Devil seems to kick off an orgy that consumes the whole town. At least that's what the extended sequence featuring deeply bizarre Deranged Animation sexual imagery seems to suggest.
- Porn with Plot: The film is a cult classic for its gorgeous, psychedelic artwork, its awesome psych-prog score and original songs, and its developed, well-written story with feminist themes (explicitly ending with a call for women to be at the front of the revolution — not something you'd expect to see in a porn). It was also intended to be a porno, has some visible budget restrictions due to this, and a lot of very graphic sex scenes.
- Rape as Drama: In a very symbolic but very graphic scene, Jeanne is gang-raped by the Baron and other nobles. The scene is rather disturbing and involves Jeanne's body turning into bats amidst her despair.
- Satan: The Devil seduces Jeanne, has sex with her, and turns her into a Hot Witch.
- Scenery Gorn: The Black Death is visualized as a giant black wave filled with human bones sweeping over a city.
- Scenery Porn: The backgrounds are very detailed and beautiful.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: After having sex with the Devil and becoming a Hot Witch, Jeanne is pretty much done with clothing as a thing.
- Title Drop: A villager mentions that Jeanne extracted some liquid from a belladonna flower that cured his wife's labor pains.
- Visual Innuendo:
- The Devil is a tiny little roughly penis-sized figure wrapped up completely in a white cloak except for his pink head. Shortly thereafter this becomes something more than innuendo as he jumps down into Jeanne's pants and begins pleasuring her.
- Women Are Wiser: Jeanne gets the abilities of a traditional wise woman, such as plant knowledge, healing and making magical potions. She's also more knowledgeable of human nature, judging by the fact that she knows her meeting with the baron will be a trap. In contrast, her husband, Jean, is rather feckless and gets treated like a Butt-Monkey.