The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Kanashimi no Belladonna

Title: Kanashimi no Belladonna aka Belladonna of Sadness
Genre: Drama
Company: Mushi Productions
Format: Movie; 89 minutes
Date: 30 Jun, 1973

Synopsis: A peasant woman, Jeanne, is raped by a village headsman during a ritual ceremony and is subsequently spurned by her husband, Jean. Jeanne becomes disillusioned by society and strikes a deal with the Devil for the power to lead a rebellion.

The Highlights
Art: Abstract and experimental. Actual animation is often limited; many scenes are still images with voice.
Plot: Simple, but told in a muddled, often confusing way. More about feeling than action.

Kanashimi no Belladonna is a tough movie to appreciate if the viewer doesn’t have the right taste. It’s reminiscent of the films of, say, avant-garde director Alejandro Jodorowsky, where conventional plotting doesn’t matter as much as telling a story through surreal symbols that communicate feeling. These types of experimental movies want to get in under the viewer’s skin and make them uncomfortable. Likewise, Belladonna doesn’t provide a pleasant experience, but it’s perfect for the viewer who wants something a bit daring and different.

Many of the movie’s experiments would probably fail if the art style weren’t so striking. In particular, the use of color to dictate mood is excellent. There’s a hard edge to the art that makes the feelings it puts across more intense. The images pop from the screen — this is important, because often the images do not move at all. Much of Belladonna involves little or no animation with a voice over narrating the action. It’s a curious choice that I’m not sure I understand (assuming, of course, it isn’t simply for the sake of saving money). I would find this irritating in most other movies; however, Belladonna‘s art is so otherworldly that it’s like looking at a horrifying yet beautiful painting. Often I would ignore the narration and drink in the illustration.

Where Belladonna excels most, though, is when the animators take off the kiddy gloves and dive headlong into surreal set pieces that make sense only in the dreams of the insane. The scene where Jeanne accepts her dark powers, for instance, is a kaleidoscope of madness reflecting Jeanne’s despair and anger at being abandoned by those she loves and by society. The part shortly after, where Jeanne confronts the village that had previously scorned her, is also memorable for the sheer insanity of the imagery. But it is not simply the imagery that is interesting; the way the art blends together and shifts from one symbol to the next amplifies the feelings communicated by these hallucinatory sequences. It’s as if the movie injects pure terror, anger and despair into the viewer’s eyeballs.

One caveat, however, is that this movie is not for the impatient. Belladonna is a scant 89 minutes, but the pacing is slow, mainly due to the scenes where the viewer’s eyes linger upon still images. Because much of the story and emotions are communicated via symbolism, it can be difficult to decipher exactly what is happening, despite the plot’s simplicity. This is purposeful: What’s being communicated is not just Jeanne’s emotions, but also how muddled and tangled they are due to abandonment and betrayal. Still, this isn’t the story for a viewer who wants a simple, clear story laid out for them in a logical manner. Plot matters less in Belladonna than pure feeling.

While Belladonna lays out an ugly, terrifying world, the way it does so results in fascinating visual splendor. The movie is often tough to get a grasp on; however, for those who have a taste for the avant-garde, Belladonna scratches that itch nicely.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

Top of page