Kanashimi no Belladonna
Jeanne is a beautiful young woman who is married to a kind and loving man. The two of them share an idyllic life on a farm by the French countryside. Jeanne's life comes crashing down when she is raped by a corrupt official and is cast aside by her grief stricken husband. Saddened by her humiliation and angered by her lack of power, the young woman runs off into the wilderness; there she learns the ways of nature and obtains the power to heal the sick and bring happiness to all who meet her. But her newfound power is all for naught, because it soon leads to her being hunted down as a witch by the government.
The only word I can use to describe such a film as Kanashimi no Belladonna is strange. However, there are enough intriguing ideas to keep the film afloat, but sometimes just barely. This anime is simultaneously captivating and perturbing.
Visually speaking there is nothing quite like this film that I have seen in anime. Granted, films like Yellow Submarine and Pink Floyd's The Wall share the same cerebral surrealistic art style, but in Japanese animation such a production was - and still is - a rarity. In both artistry and in music, Kanashimi no Belladonna is ubiquitous with the 70s; complete with music that seems to belong more in a rock opera than in a period piece based off of a nineteenth century novel. When this movie does have animated sequences, they can be so overbearing in colorization and "edgy" imagery that it looks as though Max Fleischer has vomited all over the screen, or that we are watching a Ralph Bakshi flick and not something by Mushi Productions. All in all, it looks rather dated.
Also to add to the subject of animation and visuals, there are a lot of points in this film which could not even be considered animation. This anime is filled with still shots and paintings, but not a lot of animation - which kind of defeats the purpose. Kanashimi no Belladonna is heavy with symbolism, especially when it came to the rape scenes. Instead of showing the rape happening, the viewer is given distrubing symbolism of Jeanne being ripped apart. It was all very hard to take, and more effectively done than any rape-laden hentai could ever hope to achieve.
The film also has a habit of using music to tell the entire story, a female vocalist narrates a lot of what is going on. This is not a bad thing, but when most of what we see is obvious, there really is not much of a need to remind us -through song - what is happening on the screen. But, the themes of rape, female vulnerability, religious persecution, and the occult, are all presented here in unique ways, so at least the story can maintain attention. Jeanne also evokes a real sense of pathos in the viewer, that it is impossible for the viewer to not feel her pain and sympathize with what she has to go through.
Another strong point of this anime is its proto-feminist message that is implemented within the plot. This is because the anime never makes the viewer feel like they are being preached to, or that the film takes the usual feminist film route of misandry. But this seems to fall apart towards the end of the film when the creators decided to throw in some final thoughts about "girl power". I am all for female empowerment, but the final throw together of tidbits of hard hitting feminism seem kind of lazy and slapped on in hindsight.
Is this a bad film? Not necessarily. But it certainly is a misguided film and the only one of three animerama films which is not directed by Osamu Tezuka. If this film was directed by Osamu Tezuka, I believe that he would have handled it better in the long run. Kanashimi no Belladonna is interesting, unique, and, at times, intelligently captivating. But it is also dated, lazily done, and could have been better than it was. It comes as no surprise that this film was a flop when it first came out.
A trippy film that has some good ideas and unique visuals that try to reach for the sky, but end up falling short. A three star film that is worthy of at least a mention due to its desire to try something different. — Dallas Marshall
Recommended Audience: Not at all for children! Full of erotic art, rape, and other iffy material for kids. This is a film for the adults in the crowd.
Version(s) Viewed: Digital source
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Kanashimi no Belladonna © 1973 Mushi Production
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