Saturday, December 20, 2014

Kanashimi no Belladonna


1973 brought us a lot of things. Aerosmith released their first album, Roe v. Wade was ratified into law, and the movie Kanashimi no Belladonna ("Belladonna of Sadness" or "The Tragedy of Belladonna" in english) was released in late June. The third and final film in the "Animerama" series by Mushi Productions, Belladonna is loosely based off of both historical accounts from the book "Satanism and Witchcraft" by Jules Michelet and the mythos of Joan of Arc. It uses a rather wide range of art mediums and is based heavily off of western art, as well as psychedelic and erotic imagery.

There are A LOT of phallic images in this movie.

The film opens on the wedding day of two young French peasants, Jean and Jeanne, in the 1400's, happy and in love. However, the film soon takes a sad, dark turn as Jean is too poor to pay the local baron the marrage pennance....so he takes it out in trade on Jeanne. Returning that morning, broken, bloody, and bruised, a terrified and ashamed Jeanne collapses into Jean's arms, who tells her that they should "Forget the Past" as he comforts her and the two try to move on from the attack. However, despite their fortunes looking up once in awhile, Jeanne is more often than not the receiver of misfortune to the point where she makes a pact with the Devil for any semblance of power.

Jean is, by all accounts, a really shitty spouse.
Belladonna is little-known but should be regarded as a cult classic due to the risks it took and the stylistic choices it made. It has little in the way of plot; it's there, but seems to be a rather thin veneer for what amounts to the love child of an art film and a porno, however even without much of a consistent narrative the film stands strong, if not proud. Perhaps it was a product of the time, or perhaps it was because the Animerama series was an attempt at making animated 'Pink' films (a genre of theatre in Japan geared toward adults, featuring either heavy violence or sexual content), but I could easily picture someone in this country strolling into a seedy back-alley theatre in the 70's and sitting down to watch this while tripping on acid and stale popcorn.

Woah, man...

Even if it shows its age (if not in art, then in content), the movie was still an engaging watch. I will admit that this was partly due to it being quite a disturbing movie, but engaging is engaging, regardless of context or content. Ignoring the repeated phallic imagery you are left with what amounts to a level of tragedy not seen again until Barefoot Gen (coming soon!) or Grave of the Fireflies, capped off with what seems to be a justification and defense for Jeanne's actions. You really sympathize with Jeanne, regardless of gender. She had the crappiest of crap lots in life.

And no one would blame you, dear.

The music also shows its age slightly, but that's mostly due to the 'funky' bass guitar riffs present and the occasional string movement, saxophone and soulful singing. However, it makes it feel more classic in that case (nostalgic, maybe?), and fits with the piece rather well, meshing it with the idea of it being a vintage adult film. It compliments the art, which is excellent given that, even if you don't like the plot or the actions, it's worth watching JUST for the art. The visuals were stunning (when they weren't being stupid), and though they fit with the art styles of the 70's (plenty of linework, thick eyelashes, lots of shines in the eyes), seem to be rather timeless and are still seen even today. Jeanne is gorgeous, and though the world around her is filled with ugly actions, it is presented as a pretty picture.

The artwork is so romanticized that i'm waxing nostalgic for this movie 4 days after seeing it.

I should warn you now that this film may produce seizures in those with epilepsy. That's not even rhetoric, I'm being serious with the amount of flashing effects they use. This was during a time when i doubt the connection was known, so they use it HEAVILY. In addition, you really, REALLY shouldn't take acid before watching this movie. Or any other mind-altering substance. It may seem like a good idea at the start, but shit gets kinda freaky towards the middle, so i don't want anyone freaking out. I don't have a personal frame of reference here, but call it a gut instinct.

Really. Please don't do drugs. Or at least not during this movie.

More important than both of those, however, is that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE are you to show this to children. People seem to be naked in some form for at least 75% of the movie (and indeed, it was kind of weird seeing Jeanne in clothes by the end), so this is NOT something for kids. It was NEVER marketed at kids, was never shown in environments with kids, and was never subject to a grey area regarding kids (unlike Cutey Honey, which came out in the same year). I wouldn't even show this to most adults, unless they can approach it with an open mind and a grain of salt (ie, adult anime fans). It's really quite a graphic movie, and that's coming from someone who grew up watching Trigun, Bebop and Gantz.

This isn't even the worst image i could have shown you...

There was no DVD release of Belladonna in North America, but it is available in Japan from Columbia Pictures and I don't know what in Europe. Otherwise, it's not terribly hard to find a torrent of of it online. The copy I found is from fong, but it's also available from Nemisis Anime (French), TntVillage (Italian), and AniMugen Fansubs (Spanish). It's easily found on BakaBT, Nyaa Torrents and Kickass Torrents.

I think we should all admire the courage Jeanne manages to hold onto in the face of adversity.

3.5-4/5

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