Following the death of pioneering director Eiichi Yamamoto, Nick and Nicky revisit his psychedelic film Belladonna of Sadness, an incomparable piece of art confronting misogyny, classism, and sexual liberation.
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
CONTENT WARNING: This column includes discussion of sexual assault and features erotic artistic images that includes nudity, phallic, and yonic imagery. This column is NSFW.
Well Nicky, I just spent another week in the Preview Guide mines and by god I need something to make me feel alive again. I need something artistic, ambitious. Something that will remind me why I love anime as an art form so much to begin with!
Yeah, nothing to make you remember the validity of animation as an artform than a weird film The 70’s™️. In honor of director Eiichi Yamamoto‘s passing, today we’re daring everyone to watch his tragic, erotic, and bizarre cult masterpiece Belladonna of Sadness.
It rules, is what I’m saying.
But if you’re open to letting the film as a whole take you in, you’re in for a wild, incredibly unique time.
What choice does she have but to gain the power to help herself? By whatever means possible.
Could it be SATAN
And Satan himself is perhaps the most fascinating part of Belladonna‘s thesis statement here. His portrayal shifts and morphs based on Jeanne’s own mental space, becoming larger, more imposing, more threatening, and demanding as her own desperation grows. But also he starts out as a tiny phallic metaphor who likes climbing on tiddy.
And the next you are quite literally disarmed:
So Jeanne once again makes another deal in an attempt to make up for her husband’s failures, the country goes to war but Jeanne is able to gain respect of the remaining women in the village as a prosperous figure after getting a loan and becoming a moneylender. This makes the lord’s wife horribly jealous.
And again, it’s a situation where the working class are only allowed to thrive so long as it doesn’t endanger the egos or perceived power of the nobility. Even when you’re playing the game well, it’s rigged against you.
I joke, but I do think it’s crucial that even the one person who SHOULD hold Jeanne dearest still capitulates and betrays her in service of maintaining his own position in the hierarchy. The idyllic, “drunk on love” couple has been turned into a shadow of themselves by those evils enacted upon them.
Don’t ask me what that last one is a metaphor for.
Then having been targeted by Jeanne in his own house the Baron decides to pull out the big guns: her stupid husband Jean.
Then it zooms out to silently reveal that dagger, before panning up to show Lord Bonehead in all his grumpy glory. It’s just a sublime little bit of quietness in a 3rd act filled with sound and madness.
It’s chilling, it’s a good example of how even the movie’s more “limited” elements are still really powerful with just having great and carefully placed.
But yeah, Jean shows up and essentially tries to convince Jeanne to start sharing her remedies and magic with the nobles. Y’know, to uh, help spread them to everyone and definitely not horde that power as their own. For sure. That’s how it’ll work, right?
There’s literally a priest who hangs over his shoulder the entire movie, you’d think that guy would have noticed the mixed metaphor there.
I believe this part in particular was a later edition added with a re-edit in order to appeal to a larger female audience that never got released into theaters. I find it a bit on-the-nose, but it’s not a bad way to go.
I’d believe it, since it feels like the creators stepping out on stage and directly telling you how to interpret a movie already pretty up front with its themes. But hey, that’s a petty niggle about what is otherwise a ridiculously unique and powerful piece of animation history.
It’s a remarkably unique creation that even almost 50 years later still holds a visceral power in both message and art. Now more than ever, we need raw and expressive art that tells us the important things, like how Satanism makes you incredibly sexy.
Or the pussy willows.
Anyways, have a good one, all!