#120 : Belladonna of Sadness

BoS_1On the surface you may think Belladonna of Sadness is some pornographic psychedelic fest of sex, drugs and rock ’n roll. Hedonism at it’s height and yet far from it. Yes this is an erotic movie, very sexual indeed at certain parts, though much of what is brought out through the sexual act is not pleasurable or idealized. With pleasure comes pain, much like any responsibility, including love. Belladonna of Sadness is a title for ‘mature’ adult audiences, told partially through an erotic perspective, with so much more going on that to dismiss this film as simply a wild psychedelic skin flick would be an injustice.

BoS_2Mix elements of The Beatles Yellow Submarine, Gustav Klimt, the Ryder Waite tarot deck (or maybe even Yoshitaka Amano’s deck… I use this one) and beautiful organic line work accented by watercolor fills and you get a general idea of the look of a tale of a Medieval maiden by the name of Jeanne (is it me or does she remind you of Fujiko Mine from Lupin III?). Recently married to her beloved Jean (a perfect pair of opposites/polarity?) the honeymoon is completely spoiled due to the kings need for taxes. When Jean is unable to pay the fees it is up to Jeanne to come up with a solution. Selling her soul to the Devil and exploring the dark night of the soul via sex and witchcraft, Jeanne soon becomes targeted as a witch. Yet she admired by the townspeople as she brings help to the suffering via her femininity and the use of belladonna, a nightshade that can be a medicine, hallucinogen, or poison depending on the dose. Now for the ultimate question, are Jeanne’s methods and new role, both of which exist outside the established patriarchal order, considered methods of evil, or balance?

BoS_3Belladonna of Sadness may be an anime, but it does not follow or accept the traditional look typical of Japanese animation as stated previously. The look is more akin to western sensibilities, yet I doubt any western studio would dare to give life to a project like Belladonna of Sadness. I give thanks and respect to Mushi Production and studio head Osamu Tezuka for creating such an uncompromising piece of art. The animation most of the time is sparse and at times is nonexistent in sections where the only movement was the action of scrolling long still collage images. Is this animation, or fine art passing as a film? Still shots could pass as canvased paintings much more so than just painted acetate cels. Much akin perhaps to Angel’s Egg, Belladonna of Sadness could belong in an art gallery setting instead of the usual theater venue.

BoS_4The original source material, a novel by Jules Michelet named La Sorcière (The Witch, though the title is better known as Satanism and Witchcraft) is unknown to me, but this did not block my own interpretations. Much of the themes reflect the history of the subjugation of the divine feminine and the fear of our more ancient principles and primal desires. The aspects of the darker subconscious, raw sexuality, the use of psychedelic substances as a way of altering ones consciousness and the worship of the feminine as supreme Goddess. Is the Goddess a witch, or a savior? …think Lilith, the untamed feminine. Reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali… just what is God? SHE is darkness, the void, wild and terrifying beyond compare. The polar opposite to the Abrahamic ‘father’ image. In medieval European society and even still in our ‘modern’ cultures, much of what is listed above was and is still at times considered heresy. Yet this is only because that is what we have been told. Where is truth? How can such darkness be natural? And just what, or who is the Devil really?

Like any hallucination that takes the your mind, your ego, your essence into a different sphere of consciousness, viewing Belladonna of Sadness changes your perception of anime and perhaps even a part of yourself. Be gentle when viewing this film as mind blowing adventures always leaves something behind that you must take full responsibility for as it is now a part of your experience. Belladonna of Sadness is more than a movie, it’s a full blown awakening.

#43 : Vampire Hunter D

Vampire Hunter D is plain and simple, a horror movie… NO… a western. True there are no cowboys, etc. like in a traditional western, but it has all the elements and style of a these films. Only claiming this movie is a horror flick is completely untrue. Yes there are vampires and beasts and lots of gothic references, but still it’s a classic western in the style of Shane where our hero comes in to town to do the business of saving the innocent and has to leave because his destiny is the road less traveled. The road of the one and only… Vampire Hunter D.

VHD_1D himself is an interesting character. Tall, dark and handsome with a glint of danger in his eyes that also show a humanity that is rare to come by. Kind of like Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star or maybe Captain Harlock, D is an example of restraint. Your Clint Eastwood or Gary Cooper type, where being on the road is your destined life. And that destiny is difficult as he is a mixed breed, the dhampir, or the mix of the vampire with a human. Not only is he an outcast, but he hunts down his vampire lineage. So the title is self explanatory, he is ‘Vampire Hunter D’. And while on this road he meets a girl who requires a hunter due to the fact that she was a victim of a vampire, one Count Magnus Lee. In a soft spoken fashion, he agrees to help.

VHD_2This simple farm girl named Doris Lang lives on a farm with her brother Dan and the news of her being bitten by something so ‘unholy’ and ‘unclean’ makes her not to popular in town. The only exception is the playboy son of the mayor Greco, what a douchebag. But with D by Doris’ side she feels a strong sense of security. And the security is needed as the Count sends his daughter Lamika and the fighter Rei Ginsei right of the bat. The action begins and more monsters and adventure awaits. But D also has a partner… in his left hand. One of the creepiest and odd characters I have ever seen, but so cool. Although I would not want some face looking thing in my hand. just my preference.

VHD_3Let me return yet again to Fist of the North Star. The director for both that series and film and this movie is Mr. Toyoo Ashida. His sweeter character designs can be seen in both, though D and a majority of the characters definitely take after the originals of Yoshitaka Amano’s gothic androgyny. The plots for both series are similar and well they can both be a little bit violent. Though the violence in both I agree to be a part of the situation at hand and the story and are not just for pure disgust and shock, like say Violence Jack or M.D. Geist. D is after all a vampire hunter and that job is not one that is clean and tidy. Overall as a movie it is good and entertaining, but far from perfect. As a favorite during the old days of VHS, this was a part of the limited diet of consumption that we had here in the west. It’s still worth a watch, but don’t let nostalgia blind you. But as a popcorn action flick, it’s a gem. And that cheesy English dub from Streamline Pictures has merit and character.

VHD_4If there is one theme ever present… well maybe two that kind of go hand in hand are romance and sexuality. This is a vampire flick and the concept of these blood suckers deals with the ideas of sexual desire and gratification. Both of which the Count and D both possess, but in different ways. The Count feeds on these desires, like a rabid animal he is never satisfied and craves more and more. D, as the definition of restraint, painfully represses his tendencies and desires, which makes even simple intimacy difficult. He after all has to be above the desires for lust and conquest because his human half gives him a conscience. But that conscience and higher calling of morality sacrifices true love as Doris would soon see. She loves D and D loves her, but he can’t fall victim to the lower instinct of sexual liaison as mere conquest. He shows affection through loyalty instead.

Vampire Hunter D is unique in it’s setting and environment. And as I have said before, think of it like a western and question why we don’t have more tales like this with a horror post apocalyptic bend instead of the usual ‘cowboy’ movie. My only advice is to watch out for anything that may go bump in the night. Don’t get bit now, unless that is your thing 😉

#8 : Angel’s Egg

No matter what anyone says, anime is primarily a pop culture vehicle, a marketing tool to promote an already established manga, toy line, established franchise, or at times, a video game. It is true that animation is a skilled craft that requires artists to create the final product from writing to drawing to special effects. But in the end, it is not a piece of fine art that can hang in a posh museum along the likes of Van Gogh, Pollack, or Warhol. All except for this one example that I am aware of.

AE1Angel’s Egg is without question one of of the most uncompromising pieces of animation I have ever seen. It has no agenda to sell you anything. It is art for art’s sake with a story and journey that is left for the audience to decide what it is actually about. Compared to a majority of anime of the 1980s that are big, fun, colorful and or action packed, Angel’s Egg is none of that. Dark, austere, quiet, lyrical, gothic and yet quite beautiful, Angel’s Egg is not an animated movie, but more like a poem come to life through visual interpretation.

AE2The stark, post-apocalyptic world, sets the tone for the only two characters that are to the best of my knowledge, unnamed. The first is a girl who seems curious about the world around her and has as a companion a giant egg that she holds to dearly as if it was a doll. Along her unknown journey she encounters our second character, a young man who ends up tagging along. He is curious about her behavior and the reason she holds dear affection towards the egg. The only thing that I can interpret from this young man is that possibly he may have been a soldier due to the fact he carriers a large weapon like object that looks similar to a giant cross. What sin does he have to bear, or what sin will he commit? Along their journey they witness many a strange sighting from ruins to faceless fishermen who hunt ghost like whales that they can never catch. The ending and turning point like most of the reviews here, I will leave for you to find out.

So where did this film originate from? From the mind’s of two men. The first being the artist and character designer Yoshitaka Amano, a name known to those who are fans of Final Fantasy and Vampire Hunter D. The other is one of Japan’s best known auteur directors, Mamoru Oshii. Production began right after Oshii’s time on Urusei Yatsura, particularly the dream like film Beautiful Dreamer, you could tell he wanted to push the boundaries much further. The act of expressing something very deep and also, very painful. Oshii has stated that he had a hard time getting work after this movie, but you have to give him credit for being brave enough to give the world something this different.

AE3Due to a lot of interpretation of this movie, and most of Oshii’s work in general, many state Christian symbolism and influence. I agree that the symbology can be viewed from a certain point of view, but like any religion, it all comes back to the one truth when studied properly. The theme of Angel’s Egg is in my personal view about a great loss of something very special within one’s life that it makes the pain unbearable to bear any longer. There are many interpretations of what Oshii was trying to express from his own life. What was his pain? Many interpretations can be or may not be correct, but in the end it is how it affects you as the viewer. And the question you must ask, how does this relate to my personal experience? Angel’s Egg, a masterpiece like no other.