A lost cult classic of anime, Belladonna of Sadness is the third film in a trilogy of erotica anime films called Animerama made by Mushi Production and had some sort of involvement from famous anime director Osamu Tezuka from 1969 to 1973 (Tezuka being a producer for Belladonna). Set in a pre-French Revolution era French village, new bride Jeanne finds herself raped by her village's corrupt lord and turns to witchcraft to escape the cruelty of the local lords influencing her village.
The immediate thing that will stick out to many viewers of Belladonna is its avant-garde visuals. Many of the visuals are beautifully-done watercolor drawings that have lush colors and a good amount of detail, with limited animation applied to them. A good amount of the visual sequences are symbolic representations of sexuality applied to Jeanne's tragic situation and eventual acceptance of her open sexuality. The film was made with a limited budget as this was the final animated work made by Mushi before they went bankrupt, but whatever limited resources they had work beautifully with what was done for this film to create a unique psychedelic experience. Just as a fair warning though, some of the animated sequences in Belladonna can trigger seizures for those sensitive to light thanks to light strobing effects applied to them.
In regards to plot, Belladonna is fairly straightforward as Jeanne talks with the Devil during the first half of the film to resist giving in to evil, while eventually giving into her inner demons. However, there is far more depth put into this film than what it seems on the surface thanks to its sexually-charged symbolism. Without spoiling too much, the film is a critique on how society can repress women and the lower class, with the Devil in this film not being as evil as the lords would have the villagers believe as he is a representation of the freedom that can be gained if Jeanne and others defy the social order established. However, the film will certainly not be appropriate for younger audiences thanks to its strong violent and sexual content found with many of its animated sequences.
While certainly not for everyone thanks to its arthouse-style presentation and sexually explicit themes, Belladonna of Sadness is still a unique lost film of anime history thanks to its beautiful and surreal visual presentation, and sexually-charged symbolism of seeking freedom from an oppressive and corrupt social order. If anime coming from directors like Kunihiko Ikuhara have struck your interest before, then Belladonna is certain to grab your interest here.
Last updated Sunday, October 23 2016. Created Saturday, October 22 2016.