Sex in avant-garde erotic anime, Kanashimi no Belladonna

January 18, 2009

"Belladonna. Beautiful is she. Belladonna. In love is she. She isn't hearing the footfall of sadness yet."

"Belladonna. Beautiful is she. Belladonna. In love is she. She isn't hearing the footfall of sadness yet." - Sadness of Belladonna

Click here to view more artwork. Scroll down the page to view the screenshot gallery.

Kanashimi no Belladonna (Sadness of Belladonna) is a personal favourite of mine when it comes to experimental animation. Despite being produced in 1973, it is timelessly affectionate, and still continues to influence contemporary animators like Ikuhara (Utena) and Yuasa (Kaiba, Kemonozume) today. One of the most interesting thing about this movie is that, as an erotic animation, sex scenes are 1. more sensory than representative, 2. essential tools used to develop the character of Belladonna.

Yes that does look very painful

Yes that does look very painful

Watching the first animated rape scene may be too excruciating to watch, literally recoiling at seeing the red colossal blob tearing poor Belladonna apart. What’s important here is not ‘realistic’ representation of sex that you might see in hentai series. It’s about free forms, lines and colours, drawing that raw ecstasy and exhilirating sensations from us as we watch Belladonna lose herself in despair, madness, and bliss. It certainly is a different approach to portraying sex compared to  more gratuitous and tasteless manner expected from hentais. This also seems to have inspired Yuasa‘s works, including Mind Game, Kemonozume and episode two of Kaiba. Below is a comparison as an illustration, although one really needs to watch them animated. Ikuhara also claimed to have been influenced by Kanashimi no Belladonna, and one might notice it in more sexual moments in Utena.

Mind Game

above: pseudo-rape in Kanashimi no Belladonna, below: making love in Mind Game

In a way, Belladonna is about sex. Yet it’s also about one woman’s kanashimi (sadness). Sadness of her continuous and inevitable defeats and lamentations at the face of male dominance, no matter how noble and passionate. But in that sadness we find desire. Desire in what context? Power. Desiring for power to destroy pre-conceived womanly self, liberating from male dominance. And sex becomes its expression, and extension of herself. Watch her transform from being a poor sex-slaved woman, to a free-willing goddess, embracing the power to liberate herself. Kanashimi no Belladonna is a tragedy, and a seductively beautiful one at that. This woeful ballad to Joan of Arc’s unfaltering spirit, although a little flawed, certainly doesn’t deserve to be this obscured by anime fans. Whenever you tire of current trends and feel like something different, seek this. And be entranced.

"In the film, the distinctive illustration style of illustrator Kuni Fukai is brought to life in a way that no other artist's work has been brought to life in a full-length animated film, blending his actual illustrations of the characters with incredibly imaginative animation which seems to ooze from the images themselves. The man responsible for this bold approach, Gisaburo Sugii, did a marvelous job of bringing these pictures to life, choosing what to use as a still illustration, when to switch to full animation, and how to make it seem natural. The director Eiichi Yamamoto in turn handles the human tragedy played out by this visual phantasmagoria with his usual good dramatic sense. The quirky folk-rock soundtrack also contributes to the film's rather medieval and otherworldly yet stylishly modern atmosphere. Overall this is truly unique film with artistic vision and an adult sensibility lacking in the first two films, with all their Tezuka-esque bathos and childish comedy. It is, however, curiously neglected..." - Ben at Anipages Daily

“[...]blending his actual illustrations of the characters with incredibly imaginative animation which seems to ooze from the images themselves. [...]choosing what to use as a still illustration, when to switch to full animation, and how to make it seem natural. The director Eiichi Yamamoto in turn handles the human tragedy played out by this visual phantasmagoria with his usual good dramatic sense. The quirky folk-rock soundtrack also contributes to the film’s rather medieval and otherworldly yet stylishly modern atmosphere. Overall this is truly unique film with artistic vision and an adult sensibility[...]with all their Tezuka-esque bathos and childish comedy. It is, however, curiously neglected[...]” – Ben at Anipages Daily

*Recommended fansub: [MW]Kanashimi no Belladonna

snapshot20090708112338snapshot20090708112823snapshot20090708124148snapshot20090709140003snapshot20090709152855snapshot20090709140624[MW]Kanashimi_no_Belladonna[4BE372D8].mkv - 00017snapshot20090709152559snapshot20090709150034

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10 Responses to “Sex in avant-garde erotic anime, Kanashimi no Belladonna”

  1. Sasa Says:

    Wow, this is quite a long movie, I didn’t expect that at all.

    Well, about a year ago, I was searching for this movie on the internet because of the intriguing screenshots but couldn’t find anything. Now, it looks like there has been subs of it for awhile, I just totally failed to see that. Anyways, this is a must-watch for me, although it is possible that I won’t be able to watch it for awhile. So, thank you for the reminder!

  2. gaguri Says:

    No problem ^^

  3. animekritik Says:

    This does look interesting. Joan of Arc was one cool individual..

  4. gaguri Says:

    I didn’t mention this but according to Ben (anipages daily), the book is inspired by the novel “La Sorcière”, which is a story of Jaon of Arc. The woman’s name is Jean (–> Joan), but I always saw her as Belladonna for some reason. Must be the brainwashing effect of the song @_@. But she definitely does remind one of Joan of Arc’s spirit, and there is witchcraft element as well.

  5. Kate Says:

    Just what is pseudo-rape?


  6. [...] You can find more screenshots and my thoughts on this amazing ero-anime from my previous post here. [...]

  7. Robyn Says:

    To Kate:

    Possibly rape of the mind, I guess. Lot’s of visual imagery to wade thru. Not actual physical rape that is seen earlier. Don’t take the statement literally.

  8. ayame Says:

    Do you know that belladonna is the name of a poisonous plant, as well? It’s also mentioned in Utena. Interesting tidbit, isn’t it?

  9. Vanny Says:

    Very nice review!

    I really enjoyed watching this film. In the beginning I had very low expectations since I heard there were a lot of still shots (I usually don’t watch old stuff) but the art was simply just breath taking and haunting.

    The end was horrible in my opinion, but overall it was an enjoyable experience.
    Especially those trippy psycheledic scenes.

  10. gaguri Says:

    Thanks! It has lots of stills, but they’re all beautiful, and animated sequences are spectacularly trippy indeed.


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