Vive la révolution! “Belladonna of Sadness” is a revolution that will not be televised — not with its extreme adult content. Kuni Fukai’s hand-drawn art is enchanting and repulsive for a reason. “Belladonna” is loosely based on Jules Michelet’s book “La Sorcière: The Witch of the Middle Ages.” It’s about a woman subjected to constant rape and violence until she has a sexual awakening, makes a pact with the devil, and inspires rebellion. The story is told by mostly slow-panned and zoomed camera shots of watercolor paintings. Often, the soft pastel watercolors are vividly assaulted by darks and reds.
It’s a violent journey, expressed through art nouveau painting styles similar to Gustav Klimt and pop art popularized by “The Yellow Submarine.” The art viscerally symbolizes the trauma faced by the women’s liberation movement that was gaining momentum in Japan at the time. Expert colorist Caitlin Díaz, who helped restore the original prints, says the hand-drawn artwork is “not only aesthetically pleasing, but also layered with themes of power, gender politics, and history.” Because of the restoration, a new generation of cinephiles are able to see the film. Elijah Wood is among them. He told EW, “It’s so unique, to blend traditional animation with these sort of tableaux paintings that the camera’s passing over. It’s really just unparalleled. I’ve never seen anything like it.” Those are strong words coming from a guy who co-founded cult production company SpectreVision.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).