That mashup — of feminine beauty and insanity-inducing toxicity —is a good cipher for everything about Belladonna of Sadness (“Kanashimi no Balladonna”).
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For all its overindulgence in depravity, Belladonna stands as both an important forebear to a now-beloved genre and a confused, albeit earnest tribute to those who dare defy authority in order to elevate themselves.
Belladonna of Sadness is an interesting curiosity from the early days of modern anime, but material that may have seemed daring and adult in the era of Disney's “Robin Hood” and “Snoopy, Come Home” looks exploitative and misogynistic 43 years later.
There's an undeniable genius at work here, strong enough to survive the psychedelic sleaze that's been baked into every frame.
Belladonna of Sadness is compulsively watchable, even at its most disturbing: The imagery is frequently graphic, and still, after over 40 years, it has the power to shock.
Perhaps too ambitious for its own good (or at least its budget), the film is impossible to dismiss, even if it exhausts its reserve of ideas.
The artwork is achingly delicate, but there's nothing subtle about Belladonna of Sadness, a blast of psychedelic madness full of rape, tyranny and Satanism.
Eiichi Yamamoto's cult anime strikes a perfect balance between midnight-movie enchantment and arthouse sophistication.
You can fully enjoy Belladonna of Sadness if you either overlook or participate in the objectification of a gorgeous victim.