Belladonna of Sadness is an art house animation feature animated film produced in 1973. Loosely based on the nineteenth-century classic “The Witch”, Belladonna tells the story of a young woman in a brutally repressive and exploitative feudal society. 40 years later this film still evokes some strange emotions, given the fact the visuals consist mostly of still paintings panned across and are strongly influenced by western art. At a little more then 88 minutes of running time, it is a relatively short film but it makes those minutes count. Certainly the first, and possibly the only animated film that might be classified in the pinku genre.
Even if you find the subject matter not to your liking there is no denying that this movie is truly beautiful. This is also a film not for the young ones. I stated in the first sentence that this is an art house film. Sexuality runs rampart in Belladonna of Sadness, and definitely geared towards the art house. I was also told that some familiarity with Aubrey Beardsley is a plus but not a pre-requisite. A sign of things to come, as this is only the first in a series of tragic events that push this woman, through desperation, into the world of witchcraft.
This film was in fact intended to be, literally, revolutionary, but too bad it was a commercial failure and contributed to Mushi Pro becoming bankrupt by the end of the year. Annoying as it is, it still can’t detract attention from an even more repulsive aspect: an ever conspicuous, moronic interest in seeing a naked woman raped or otherwise humiliated. Perhaps the general audience agreed with me and especially in the early 70s, might have been deemed a bit too much. It stands today as one of the small handful of anime films that can stand up to comparison with the most innovative work but also one I will never revisit again.
I made a hard decision going back and forth wondering if replay value should be accounted for in the final grade of this anime. Generally speaking, this film is out to evoke an emotional response and I look at it from that perspective. It is from that perspective, several minutes into the film, that full animation is finally used, in order to depict the rape of the virgin bride with metaphorical imagery much more disturbing than what a literal depiction of the same events could provide. This is a tough film to digest, and it blurs the line between bold and obscure. From an artistic standpoint Belladonna is great, for general movie watching…it is an acquired taste.