Belladonna of Sadness (1973) Blu-ray Review



Essential for fantasy fans who are looking for something a little different.

Plot: After being banished from her village, a peasant woman makes a pact with the devil to gain magical ability.

Review: In medieval times, two lovers – Jean and Jeanne – are wed in a lavish ceremony, but just when they should be congratulated and sent on their way to make a new life together, the local lord approaches and demands to take Jeanne for the night, which is his “right.” After being viciously raped, Jeanne goes home to her new husband, who has no idea how to adjust to the wrong that was done to them, and as a result a schism is formed between them. In her limitless sorrow, Jeanne is visited by the devil in the form of a worm-like creature, and the devil pleasures her in ways that she never thought she’d be able to experience again. Wishing for vengeance and power, Jeanne makes a pact with the devil, who continues to bestow on her powers and pleasure, but in the process her relationship with her husband is completely destroyed as she no longer resembles the woman he fell in love with. Over the course of time, Jeanne gains untold beauty and power, but the villages beyond and the surrounding kingdom begins to view her as a threat (and as a witch), amounting to an inquisition where the lord of the land seeks council on how to handle the situation. Even with all her beauty and power – and an ally in Satan himself – Jeanne cannot stop the hordes that come up against her.

An obscure oddity worth discovering, the animated Belladonna of Sadness is a radically unusual (and very adult) fantasy film for mature connoisseurs of animation and Japanese animation. As animated and directed by Eiichi Yamamoto (Astro Boy), the film is lush in its visuals even when all you see on screen is a painting that doesn’t move. Not all the film is “animated,” in the traditional sense. Many scenes and moments are still shots, but when the pictures move, it’s wondrous and interesting.

Sobering, allegorical, and sexy, Belladonna languished in limbo for many years until a collective effort was made to restore and re-release it for this generation, and the superbly packaged Blu-ray (to be released on July 12th) from Cineliciouspics and Cinefamily is one of the integral restoration releases of 2016. With a new 4K feature restoration from the original 35mm camera negative (including over 8 minutes of surreal and erotic footage that had originally been edited out), the package also includes new interviews, trailers, and an informative insert booklet. Hardcore fans of animation and anime (and fantasy films in general) should make purchasing this package a major priority. It’s a startlingly gorgeous feminist film, and it’s likely you’ve never seen anything else quite like it.