New To Blu: Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

The 1973 release comes to blu-ray tomorrow.


In the late sixties, Osamu Tekuza, the so-called "god of manga", commissioned three adult anime films known as Animerama. These films share a common theme of avant-garde animation style, erotic imagery and overall adult content. The three films were A Thousand and One Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1970), and Belladonna of Sadness (1973). Belladonna of Sadness has recently been graced with a 4K digital restoration by Cinelicious Pics and also a limited cinema release. I was lucky enough to catch a showing at the historical Music Box Theater in Chicago. It's a rare treat to get to see any sort of anime on the big screen here in the states, especially one that is as rare as Belladonna of Sadness.






Of the three films, Belladonna of Sadness is the most experimental and surreal. The plot concerns a newlywed couple named Jeanne and Jean who have their wedding night decimated by a horrific crime committed upon Jeanne. She is raped by a baron and his guards and thrown out of their castle like so much discarded garbage. Jeanne then is courted by a mystical demon who promises to give her the power to take revenge for the wrongs that have been done to her (at the cost of her body and soul). This is a revenge tale, but there is definitely a strong feminist subtext to the film, which makes sense since the women's rights movement was just beginning to flourish in the early seventies. Though Jeanne is depicted as a beautiful flower that is being ravaged she does have the tenacity to overcome her situation and still bloom despite her tragic life.

The animation style is unlike anything I have seen in anime before--it's a mixture of still paintings and incredibly lavish animation. In this way it seems to unfurl itself like a dark and erotic storybook that is periodically punctuated by moments of sensual and smooth animation. Both the colors and style are reminiscent of watercolor paintings with a heavy influence from Gustav Klimt and hints of Impressionism art. The sex scenes (as well as the rape scenes) are portrayed in a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of LSD-infused images and sounds. There is a lot of strong sexual content in this film but it's done in a tasteful manner so that it elevates above pornography (not that porn is a bad thing). It just has a bit more meaning behind the sensuality--it titillates the mind as well as one's libido.



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While your eyes are being dazzled by the imagery, your ears are not left out in the cold--the score to this film is amazing as well. Scored by famous jazz composer Masahiko Satoh, the music is an alluring mix of sweeping '70s style orchestral music (heavy on the strings) and jittery acid jazz with tons of Rhodes and saxophone. The main love theme of the film,  Kanashimi no Belladonna sung by Mayumi Tachibana, was used in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill (2003), and fans of that film will recognize it immediately. It's interesting to note that Kill Bill is also about a woman who takes revenge after being wronged--I'm not sure if that soundtrack choice was intentional or not on Tarantino's part.
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Belladonna of Sadness is a tragic film, and it beams a spotlight on how, even when women are abused they are still blamed for the events that befall them. Jeanne represents the angry and hysterical scream that rises up out of our collective throat due to our inability to make ourselves heard in a society that subjugates us on a daily basis. As women, we are all capable of becoming the Belladonna of Sadness.



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Score

-Michelle Kisner