Purple Television

[April 10 2020] : film

Purple Paradiso: “Belladonna Of Sadness” by Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973, Your Movie Of The Day Curated and Reviewed By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Purple Paradiso: “Belladonna Of Sadness” by Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973, Your Movie Of The Day Curated and Reviewed By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Belladonna of Sadness is a 1973 Japanese animated Faustian revenge fairy tale directed by Eiichi Yamamoto based off of Jules Michelet’s book Satanism and Witchcraft published in 1862.  In the late 60s, the so-called “God of Manga” (creator of Astro Boy) Osamu Tekuza, conceived three adult anime films known as Animerama. These films share a common theme of avant-garde animation style, erotic imagery, and overall adult content. The three films were A Thousand and One Nights (1969), Cleopatra (1970), and Belladonna of Sadness (1973). Of the three films, Belladonna of Sadness is the most experimental and surreal. The film screened at the 23rd Berlin International Festival and was a commercial failure contributing to the animation company becoming bankrupt by the end of the year.


The film fell into obscurity until it had a resurgence in popularity, when Quentin Tarantino, used the main love theme of the film, Kanashimi no Belladonna sung by Mayumi Tachibana, in his film Kill Bill (2003), and only fans will recognize it immediately. It’s Interesting to take note that Kill Bill is also about a woman who takes revenge after being wronged, it’s unknown if this was an intentional homage by Tarantino. Undoubtedly the animation, which Tarantino discovered while working at a video store 15 years prior, inspired much of Kill Bill. Regardless, we can all thank Quintin Tarantino for this film being widely known today.


The plot concerns a newlywed couple named Jeanne and Jean who live in a rural village in Medieval France. On the wedding night, Jeanne is raped in a ritual deflowering ceremony by the local baron and his courtiers also known as Prima Nocta in Latin or Droit de Cuissage/Droit de seigneur in French like we see in the film Braveheart (1995). Afterwards, she is thrown out of the castle. As a traumatized Jeanne tries to rebuild her life. She is visited by an unnamed penis looking creature who helps her achieve financial success for herself and her husband, Jean. The Faustian critter also helps her reclaim her sexuality and teaches her hose to use her sexual power as revenge. Out of Jealousy, the baron’s wife convinces her husband that Jeanne is a witch possessed by the devil who will try to steal his power.  This is a revenge tale, but there is a strong feminist subtext to the film, which makes sense since the women’s rights movement in Tokyo was just beginning to flourish in the early 70s. Though Jeanne is violated she does have the tenacity to overcome her situation and still bloom despite her tragic life. Jeanne represents the angry and hysterical scream that rises up out of our collective throat due to our inability to make ourselves heard in a society that subjugates women on a daily basis. As women, we are all capable of becoming the Belladonna of Sadness. In the words of Susan Sontag and often repeated on a regular basis by Purple contributor Jonathan Hepfer, “Depression is Melancholy minus its charms.”  Belladonna of Sadness masterly shows all of the beauty and charms of melancholy without crossing over into the ugly territory of depression.


The animation style is magnificent and unique. It’s a combination of still painting and incredible lavish animation. Both the colors and style are reminiscent of watercolor paintings with a heavy influence from Gustav Klimt. Kandinsky, and Degas. The sex scenes are portrayed in a phantasmagorical kaleidoscope of LSD- infused images and sounds. The score of the film is amazing as well.  Made by the famous avant-garde jazz composer Mashiko Satoh. I rank it amongst the top five film scores ever produced!  The music is an alluring mix of sweeping 70s style orchestral music and jittery acid jazz with tons of saxophones that acts as a continuous backdrop for the duration of film.

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