As a hesitant fan of animation, I find projects similar to Belladonna of Sadness a waste of potential. Water-colour animation sounds like a beautiful, painfully difficult idea for a film. Loving Vincent didn’t convince me that the excruciating effort of having so many painters craft the story of Vincent Van Gogh was worth it, but perhaps I’ve no love for art or the finer things in life. Whatever the case, I was hesitant and worried about this piece from Eiichi Yamamoto. I’m not sure why, one mediocre experience shouldn’t affect my feelings toward a certain style of animation so wholly, but the odd animosity was still there.
It needn’t have been, as Belladonna of Sadness is rather good. My soft spot for 20th century oddities makes this a charming little piece of talented beauty. Whilst I’d not expected something great, I hadn’t expected this film to be so musical. It revels in any chance it can to present us its marvellous soundtrack. Paired with the colourful watercolours, and we’re given a very unique film. The beauty of the artistry clashes harshly with a plot of witchcraft, erotica, and Devilish intention. It’s a nice contrast, a thoroughly obvious one to make, and the headstrong introduction to our story does undermine the somewhat tepid second act. Held together by this beautifully crafted animation, Yamamoto does hold everything together rather well, but there’s only so much we can get out of animation alone.
Aiko Nagayama narration and leading performance as our titular Belladonna is rather inspired. She details a story of genuine tragedy, grief, and horror with intrinsic calmness, adding a minimalist layer to a film so intent on showcasing its beauty in the little details. Some moments fly vibrantly into its unique randomness, but randomness for the sake of it is rather frequent. It undoes a great deal of the simpler, calmer, and more expressive moments of the first half-hour, instead giving us a film that quite literally shows off anything the animation team thought it’d be cool to draw. It makes for a jarring moment, one that doesn’t do much for me outside of being rather weird. A good weird, I should say, but weird nonetheless.
Harrowing art paired with an incredible, bass-heavy soundtrack make Belladonna of Sadness an encapsulation of erotic French fiction. I’m not entirely convinced by its animation style, but I can appreciate the woes and troubles Yamamoto looks to encapsulate with this unique brand of artistry. Fascinatingly manic at times, but never quite capitalising on such odd, acid-inspired insanity. Weird madness for the sake of it, haunted screams and a deluge of clashing themes and oddities make for such an engrossing film, I’m just quite surprised at the relative lack of connection. Perhaps that’s the point, but if it is, I’m not sure why they bothered with a story in the first half-hour.