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 And One Nights. Inspired by... Jules Michelet's non-fiction book Satanism and Witchcraft (or La Sorciere), the film was directed by Osamu Tezuka's disciple Eiichi Yamamoto, and produced by Tezuka's studio Mushi Productions.
The story follows the peasant woman Jeanne, who has just been Happily Married to Jean, when the village nobility demands an absurdly high marriage tax. The couple can't pay, so the baron sees fit to have his way with the bride.
When she returns home, Jeanne is seduced by a demon, 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 bubonic plague strike the rest of the village, suspicion grows, and Jeanne is eventually cast out of the village. She wins the villagers over, when she offers a miracle cure for the plague, but then the nobility catches wind of her power...
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. Somehow.
Famous live-action Japanese actor Tatsuya Nakadai provides the voice of Satan.
This film provides examples of:
- Aristocrats Are Evil: The baron and baroness.
- 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 lord makes Jean the official tax collector for regularly paying his taxes, but during the war years he can't squeeze anything more from the peasantry. As punishment the lord has Jean's left hand chopped off.
- Back from the Dead: The first villager Belladonna heals from the Black Plague, 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 it's because the Jean/Jeanne couple are way too poor (they're farmers with only one cow which they sold for offerings to the lord). It transitions to Does Not Like Shoes as she's still barefoot when she becomes the town moneylender.
- Bittersweet Ending: Depending on how one interprets the epic Mind Screw of an ending, it's either this or a Downer. 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: Strikes the village. Jeanne sets out to save the villagers but it turns out to be a bad idea.
- Broken Aesop: The film's feminist credentials feel undercut by the constant sexual violence its heroine endures, coupled with its fondness for long, lingering pans up and down Jeanne's frequently naked body.
- Broken Bird: It's more Jean that's the broken one than Jeanne. Jeanne is broken after her gang rape but quickly gets her bearings back after meeting Satan. Jean on the other hand almost strangles his wife after getting cuckolded, and from then on he's rarely sober (his behavior gets worse after Jeanne becomes the main money earner and he gets his left hand chopped off for not collecting enough taxes).
- Burn the Witch!: Jeanne's unfortunate end.
- 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 wildnerness completely nude.
- Crucified Hero Shot: Jeanne gets executed on a burning cross-shaped stake.
- Deadly Decadent Court: The court of the baron and baroness.
- Deal with the Devil: Jeanne makes a series of deals to gain increasing material and magical power, culminating in selling her soul entirely during the Deranged Animation sequence below.
- Deranged Animation:
- 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.
- The Black Plague sequence
- Dies Wide Open: Jean, after being impaled with many spears.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Or clothes for that matter.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: All over the film, but most strikingly the devil, who is a literal dickhead.
- 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.
- Droit du Seigneur: What kicks off the plot. Jean is unable to pay the exorbitantly high marriage tax to the baron, leading the baron and his entire castle to gang rape Jeanne as substitute payment.
- Emerald Power: In the movie, green is said to be the Devil's colour and after he gives her ability to make a highly desired thread to sell, she becomes the town moneylender and goes around in a green cloak which makes the townies suspicious of her.
- Erotic Film: Lots and lots of anime sex is had. One of the themes is Jeanne's awakening as a sexual creature following her Deal with the Devil.
- Gainax Ending: As Jeanne is crucified and burned the faces of the women watching her all turn into the faces of Jeanne. Then an end title card displays a statement about how women lead the French Revolution over the image of ''Liberty Leading the People. The end.
- Happily Married: All of five minutes in the film before things go downhill.
- Healing Herb: After her final deal with Satan, Jeanne is able to use the belladonna plant to cure all manner of illnesses, but not bring people back to life or regrow a new limb.
- Hot Witch: Jeanne is rather bothered by this, actually, wanting to be made old and ugly in standard Wicked Witch style after she sells her soul and has sex with Satan. But no, the Devil leaves her hotness fully intact.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
- Jean, after he tries to fight back at Jeanne's execution.
- 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.
- Intimate Healing: Jeanne's apparent method of curing the Black Plague.
- Jerkasses: Jean, the Baroness & Baron, the Page...etc.
- The Ken Burns Effect: Limited Animation extended to its logical end point, as much of the film consists of the camera panning over still drawings.
- Limited Animation: A significant portion of the movie is made of either still images or pans over paintings.
- Love Potion: A 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 they're caught.
- Mind Rape: Jeanne's encounter with the fully-grown demon in the wilderness might qualify.
- Mind Screw: The symbolism and imagery can be nigh-incomprehensible at times.
- 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 Fan Service: Jeanne is a beautiful girl who's never had any shoes (she's so much foot fetish material that in one scene of her gang rape, one of her rapists is playing with her toes) and is fully or partially naked more often than not. And then there's her various erotically charged encounters.
- No Name Given: The members of the Baron's court.
- Nude Nature Dance: Jeanne kicks off the village orgy with one of these.
- 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. Probably. At least that's what the extended sequence featuring deeply bizarre Deranged Animation sexual imagery seems to suggest.
- Rape as Drama: In a very symbolic but very graphic scene.
- Satan: Seduces Jeanne after she's driven from the town, and turns her into a witch.
- Shameless Fanservice Girl: After having sex with the devil and becoming a 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:
- Despite the numerous explicit sex scenes and a distinct aversion of Barbie Doll Anatomy, the animation uses free forms and contours to convey the eroticism of these scenes.
- The Devil appears as 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 the tiny penis devil jumps down into Jeanne's pants and begins pleasuring her.
- Widget Series: Widget Movie. See Deranged Animation. This movie is utter fucking madness.
- 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 knowledgable of human nature (she knows her meeting with the lord will be a trap). In contrast, her husband Jean is rather feckless and gets treated like a Butt-Monkey.
- World of Symbolism: Virtually every scene in the movie contains some highly symbolic reference to sex or magic or religion or...really everything.