Eiichi Yamamoto is probably most famous for his child friendly Battleship Yamamoto series as well as a very successful Astro Boy movie. However between the two in 1973 he directed and co-wrote the movie Belladonna of Sadness. Based on “The Witch” by Jules Michelet and considered to be one of the earliest animated pinku films, I was surprised to find it in the hentai section. It certainly is missing any ultra-muscular-demonic-phallically-tentacled creatures, there are, however, certain elements such as the occult, rape and victimisation. What is different about this movie is how these themes are portrayed.


original title: 哀しみのベラドンナ, Kanashimi no Belladonna
Japan, 1973, Eiichi Yamamoto

The story centers around Jeanne and her conveniently named partner Jean, set in a rural medieval French village. All is well and happy for the couple who wish to be wed. Asking for permission from the high elders and of the land baron to reduce the marriage tax they are given permission but at the cost of ritual defloration or “droit de seignur”. This is an act which is debated to ever have existed. The “law” stated that a land baron has the right to take the virginity of the maidens who live on his land. What is so effective is that there is no real penetrative sex shown in the film. It is all done with sweeping metaphorical imagery far more haunting than the real thing.

The whole film is basically a series of still images which are panned by, occasionally animated, particularly when the scene concerns a moment of self reflection. I have seen several examples of this method which has led me to be utterly bored, especially animated comic books. That being said I have not been this moved since the first time I watched La Jetée. The well crafted water colour pictures are incredibly affecting, like a moving Klimt painting.

The rock operatic theme bellows over most the movie, the inner narration of Jeanne’s life and woes is hauntingly iconic. As Jeanne gets shunned by her lover, her countrymen, to her rise through the occult with the aid of a “friend” this movie does not sell out in its style and sticks to its thematic guns. What most struck me about this movie is its psychedelic veneer, the imagery surreal and LSD inspired, the pace sometimes laid-back and paranoid. Some people might ingest some hallucinogenics to peak their enjoyment, however the movie creates a drug haze competently on its own.

All in all, this movie was a real surprise. I was expecting to find cheap animation and shlocky trash, fitting of a Mondo Exploito review. To discover something so well crafted, so heart wrenching and, by the end, be such a clear image of feminism was as pleasant a surprise as they come. It finishes on a strong and solid message, comparing Jeanne’s character with historically significant females. The next movie I’m reviewing, that will most likely not disappoint in terms of shoestring budget exploitation, is Zombie Ass.