Witchy Women 2 : Molto Bella Donna (Slightly NSFW)

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Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: The legendary Osamu Tezuka broke away from Toei animation in the early 1960s, reputedly after they wouldn’t let him kill enough of his own lovable cartoons. He started the still active Mushi Production Studio, which produced not only his early anime classics like “Astro Boy,” “Kimba the White Lion,” and “Princess Knight,” but also some unusual suspects like the American holiday classic “Frosty the Snowman.” In the ‘70s, Tezuka’s all-encompassing ambition had him working simultaneously on the kid-friendly cutesiness of “Wansa-Kun” (“Little Wansa”) and on the borderline pornographic “Animerama Series.”

wansa kun

That series included three notorious art movies (“1001 Nights,” “Cleopatra,” and “Belladonna of Sadness”). The one we’ll be watching today did not technically involve Tezuka, who delegated work to his directorial collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto, but it may be the best and darkest of the three.

“Belladonna of Sadness,” a.k.a. “The Sorceress,” follows Jeanne, a beautiful French peasant. Or so we assume from her name; this is as French a tale as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which is to say, only vaguely so. Jeanne marries her lover, Jean, (their names suggest either the union of their souls, or how little French the screenwriters had at their command.) However, a Wicked Baron, (encouraged by a Wickeder Baroness and an Even Wickeder Priest/ Counsellor), decides to exercise his Prima Notte rights, rapes Jeanne, and then allows a motley mob to do the same. The bleeding, traumatized Jeanne returns to face Jean’s mixture of horror and disgust.

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Jeanne’s rape somehow leads her to access something dark and lustful within- personified by, well, what is best described as a tiny demon dick. This infernal phallus not only teaches Jeanne true pleasure, but also grants her witchy powers. As Jeanne’s powers grow, so does the demonic source of those powers. Meanwhile, the black plague rampages through the medieval village, and only Jeanne’s belladonna-based remedies seem to help. While the events that follow will be familiar, (think inquisitions, and finger-pointing mobs, and burning pyres) the way they LOOK is unique- because few animated features had ever being as psychedelically stunning as “Belladonna,” and few have matched it since. These are visuals we would be all be lucky to see while sleeping. Imagine Yamamoto overseeing an epochal collaboration between Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Harry Clarke, and Peter Max. You got that? Now picture the world not being ready for that sort of combined awesomeness – “Belladonna” was a flop that ended the Animerama concept, and languished in obscurity. It took 40 years for its recent re-discovery and American release. This time, the critics were slightly more ready to take it all in.

Beatricia Beatricia: More “Bella Donna” related stuff!!! Wise choice, Cousin Franz. Who could disapprove? Although lacking in genuine historical specificity, “Belladonna of Sadness” is a beauty, a gorgeous visual companion to Anne Rice’s “Witches of Mayfair” cycle; more on THAT shortly. “Belladonna” took its inspiration from historian Jules Michelet’s 1862 book “The Sorceress” (or “Satanism and Witchcraft”).

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Michelet crafted a boldly sympathetic (although largely erroneous) history of Paganism that, instead of critiquing its practices, saw it as a very earthy form of rebellion by the European peasantry (particularly female) against the intellectual oppression of both Catholicism and the subsequent Protestantism.

Trent Trent: I have no idea what I just saw, but it had a lot of purple nipples. This is as far from Mickey Mouse as it gets. Therefore, Cherry.

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Father Hank Hank: I can tell “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” sold well in Japan.

Tracey Tracey: I have nothing but praise for the beautiful artistry in “Belladonna of Sadness,” so it gets a Cherry. But I still have to complain about how at the very last minute it takes an unconvincing turn into faux-feminism, by trying to tie this fantasy of a phallus-worshipping Medieval witch to the French Revolution, and then, at logic-defying speed, tying the French Revolution to modern feminism. Everyone knows women were left out of the National Convention! The last-minute message is imposed on us via the random attachment of two historically iconic images. The first is an illustration depicting the Women’s March on Versailles of October 5, 1789, (when a female crowd assaulted the palace making demands; these demands, however, were NOT for women’s rights but for a more immediate need: bread).

Women's_March_on_Versailles01

The second image is Eugene Delacroix’s famous “Liberty Guiding the People,” which Yamamoto BIZARRELY implies is a historic portrayal of the topless woman who led the Storming of the Bastille. Inspiring as that possibility is, Delacroix’s painting is an ALLEGORY, not a photograph.

Eugène_Delacroix_-_La_liberté_guidant_le_peuple

There’s something insincere and slightly offensive in Yamamoto’s pretense that the erotic freak-out we have seen so far is valid as a feminist document. It’s as if a porn clip about the adventures of a pizza delivery man ended with a screen that said: “The preceding attempted to bring attention to the plight of working-class women who are unable to afford pepperoni pizzas. Also, the pizza pie used in the scene is 100% gluten-free. Power to the People!”

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: It starts with Women Marches, then the kings and queens die, then the nobles die, then the people who killed the kings and queens and the nobles die too, then whoever’s left alive runs around in confusion trying to figure out whether they’re left wing or right wing. I’ve been there before. As for this perverted Donald Duck adventure that Cousin Franz has exposed us to: I told Walt repeatedly to wean himself from the ayahuasca, but did he listen? Obviously not.

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”:– Borderline pornographic– “Sleeping– Beauty”:– Satanism and Witchcraft.– “Mickey Mouse–Club”:– Erotic Freakout. Topless– Donald Duck:–Exposed us to–ayahuasca.”

5 out of 6 Cherries

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