This isn’t an ordinary anime. I was turned on to it by Jenn of Jenn’s Hell Zone over at tehben.com. (An online quiz I took some time ago says she is my anime soulmate.) The anime in question is “Belladonna of Sadness” or “Kanashimi no Belladonna.” It was produced in 1973 based on a nonfiction book, La Sorciere by Jules Michelet. Eiichi Yamamoto directed it. IIRC, it is 83 minutes long.
Technically it isn’t much in terms of animation. It could be better described as sequential art with limited animation. Much of the film consists of camera action over still images, though some of those images are both spectacular and surreal. It was considered extremely avant-garde for its time. I could really see this being an art-house hit.
If violence and rape or Satanic horror might trigger you, run away from this as fast as you can. The movie gets very dark, very quickly, and stays that way.
Jeanne is the protagonist here. She is a stunning beauty, a beauty that becomes problematic. She marries Jean, a handsome young farmer who is kind, thoughtful, and loving. It is a match made in heaven. Or is it?
There’s a lord and a lady who personify every possible evil in nobility.
The other prominent character is the Devil. He’s a real dick.
After they marry he goes to the local Lord for his approval. (Probably should have done that first.) In exchange, he offers their only milk cow as payment. Neither the lord nor his lady thinks this is adequate compensation. The lord obviously lusts after the lovely and chaste Jeanne. At the same time, the lady might just be jealous of her beauty and is certainly disdainful of her virtue. An ordinary woman would likely not have received such attention.
Bad things happen. Jean cannot make such a payment. He is thrown out of the castle while the lord violently rapes his wife. Afterward, she is returned. Jean says they must start over and pretend that last night never happened. It would be a whole new life. But his hand moves slowly up to her throat and he starts to throttle her. Involuntarily, I’d say. But he doesn’t kill her. After, he is horrified by what he almost did.
Jeanne has lost everything, their source of income, her virginity, and (she thinks) the love of her husband. Enter the devil. In exchange for her soul, he will give her the power to get her revenge. She refuses, saying her soul still belongs to Jean. The devil is so tiny. How could he possibly help her? She does not take him seriously.
“I am as big and as strong as you want me to be,” he responds. And with that, the little bitty prick proceeds to have sex with her. It is unclear (to me) if she is suffering or enjoying it or both. But now at least she will get the devil’s assistance.
Over time things happen. Husband gains prestige enough to be made the tax collector. He loses that – and his hand – because the village is starving and beset by the plague and there is no money. After that, he spirals downward into drink and domestic violence.
The devil comes to pay a visit. This time he’s larger. More assistance will be granted. She uses her body to work her way into becoming a money changer, a very successful one at that. Guess what… that doesn’t work out well either. Each time the devil gives enough power to prosper for a bit, it is good for a while, and then it all comes crashing down. Each time the fall is worse for her. Rinse and repeat. Maybe some witchcraft will help?
Eventually, the devil becomes gigantic. Orgies happen, a cure for the plague is found. I won’t go into more detail because I don’t want to spoil any more of the story. The ending isn’t what you might think it would be.
Belladonna is Italian for beautiful lady. It is also the name of a flowering plant. The plant got the name because women would eat the seeds to make their pupils dilate, which was thought to be one of the traits of a beautiful woman.
The plant is also known as deadly nightshade. The berries are dark blue, hence nightshade. They are also poisonous Their active ingredient is atropine. In very small doses atropine is an antidote for opiate poisoning. In larger doses, it is psychoactive and can cause hallucinations, a fast pulse, sweating, and even paralysis. In slightly larger doses, you are dead. It is also one of the active ingredients in “loco weed.”
Belladonna is also a lovely song by Stevie Nicks. Completely unrelated but… she is known as the Welsh Witch. 🙂
The animation style is psychedelic and the music is reminiscent of a rock-ish opera. This is the early 70s, after all. Music is in French (I think) while the dialog is in Japanese. In between – and mixed in with – the horrific elements there is a LOT of erotic content. The devil certainly likes his orgasms. With all that, there is a moral to the story. There is more than one way to interpret the conclusion, I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the devil gets what he wanted in the end.
Not an easy anime to find, I caught it on Tubi TV.