Belladonna of Sadness (1973)

Golden Age Theater


Belladonna of Sadness


Directed by: Eiichi Yamamoto

Trailer: (NSFW)

Kanashimi no Belladonna (literally Belladonna of Sadness, also known as The Tragedy of Belladonna) is an avant-garde anime film made in 1973 and Inspired By Jules Michelet’s non-fiction book Satanism and Witchcraft (or La Sorciere). The film was directed by Osamu Tezuka’s disciple Eiichi Yamamoto and produced by Tezuka’s studio Mushi Productions.

Tezuka’s company was facing harsh economic realities and he decided to risk everything on a shift into feature film animation. 1001 Nights was successful enough to pay for the second film, Cleopatra/ Tezuka would leave the studio soon after its release though. With writing not just on the wall, but the wall crumbling before their eyes, the remaining staff set out to do something outrageous, artistic, and insane. This was the third film in what is known as the Animerama trilogy, and easily the most influential, Belladonna of Sadness.

If the trailer did not already alert you, the show is incredibly sexual and has multiple scenes of rape. NSFW.

Animation and Feminism Touchstone

The film featured a great production crew, if quite bare bones. Yamamoto had already proven his skill over a decade of work, and would go onto write Space Battleship YamatoSugii would go on to do another GAT feature, Night on the Galactic Railroad. The biggest name from the group however would be the amazing Osamu Dezaki.

Dezaki would launch from this film into one of the most praised career in anime, inspiring legions of followers and famous disciples. Kunihiku Ikuhara would cite Belladonna as his reason for becoming an animator, and his later work Revolutionary Girl Utena was a love letter continuation of the ideas in the film. Miyazaki’s first directorial work framed his lead woman in Lupin III after Belladonna. Takahata would revive the white-imaginative lack of drawing style in his latest works Yamada’s and Princess Kaguya. All three of these directors would also carry the torch of Feminism ideals and strong lead women throughout their careers. The list goes on and on of people inspired by the work, yet it was only in theaters for 10 days.

Belladonna is artistic wonder and inspiration with nothing held back. With twisting 70’s jazz-psych-pop music, the film goes on montage after montage of vibrant, surreal, and sexual explorations. Intercut are deeply sketched, imaginative white-out character scenes played over soul filled Japanese singing. The back and forth of these makes the hour and a half long film that covers a tremendous amount of story.

A scene everyone should see, the spread of the Black Death.

The Sexuality of Self-Determination

Belladonna of Sadness stayed quite true to the original novel it was based on. Dialog was mostly the same and followed a similar structure. The visuals on the other hand decide to work it. Blending a Snow White and Joan of Arc styled imagery throughout the film. With deep lines, faint details, and long pans over Japanese scroll type stories, the film is alive while also feeling like a picture book.

The opening is a water painting style, showing the brilliance and happiness of Jean and Jeanne. They get married and are overjoyed. The funky 70’s music and upward sliding shots give a lot to look at, but also orientate the audience to what will be a long ride of moving camera over long prints.


The custom in Europe at the time was to pay a levee to the Baron. The man is ghastly, and his lady shows clear malice early on. Her design is a reference to the Evil Queen, seen in Disney works and Snow Queen. This is later referenced again when Jeanne transforms from jackal to black caped woman, another classic imagery.


After seeing the Lady’s irritation, we find the source. Jeanne is beautiful, and the Baron demands 10x the amount that Jean could offer.The Baron then takes the opportunity to take his ‘King’s Price’ from Jeanne. The whole sequence is intense, but most stunning is the opening moment. I audibly yelled WTF when I first watched the film. Jeanne torn asunder, righteous joy torn apart and thrown to the wind by a cruel act.


In the aftermath, Jean tries to defend his position and lack of power to save her. This is perhaps the last straw, and Jeanne screams into the abyss, her hair changing color for the first time. We are treated to a fantastically long shot from position of her mirror, as she washes herself and tries to gain composure.


This all leads into her meeting a Demon in the shape of a penis. Which she stimulates in order for it to grow bigger and stronger. This would carry through the whole film, and mixes the idea of sexuality with an independent mind and confidence. As it grows, so too does her sense of individual right and self-determination. A wonderfully erotic journey that takes it to the absurd, but delivers it in such style.


belladonna-of-sadness (1)



Artistic Audience Integration

One of my favorite styles is when animators purposefully leave things for us to fill in. Character acting animation had not taken off in anime at the time, with Horus: Prince of the Sun introducing more social and moral topics only a few years before. Belladonna of Sadness chose to instead focus on the most important set piece of each scene. This creates for an orgasm scene that features only a few lines of a face in profile, or a look of fear outlined only by the eyes.


This was likely a budget issue that forced the lack of color and filament, but the artists used it to the maximum. They create impressively powerful statements, through finely detailed but minimalist pictures.




These moments work to both allow our minds to fill in the side information, and put emphasis on areas that are not truly there. Isao Takahata discussed this style a lot in interviews for the recent Princess Kaguya, which used a water color and fluid ‘artist rendering’ style of animation. Its a unique and fascinating way to tell a story. Belladonna also makes use of these whites, to make the happiness of naive marriage and the joy of independance more vibrant in contrast.


Brutality and Joan of Arc

The brutality of the film is intense. From giant red walls of ripped apart Jeanne, to a montage of rape and beastiality through a forest, to un-filtered hatred. Jeanne suffers pain and suffering that is hard to watch at times.


What holds my heart together is the transformation and evolution of our dear Jeanne. She transcends the logic of her world through the evolution of thought, sexuality, and scientific thought. The links towards the story of Joan are somewhat vague, but it comes home in the final scenes as Jeanne is burnt at the cross. The final shot of her burning reminded me of The Passion of Joan of Arc.





Final Thoughts

One of the early full bore explorations of the montage storytelling and a radical change in character design. A sexual and revolutionary work to match the culture clash of the late 60’s in Japan. Both colorful and simplistic.

Belladonna of Sadness is one of my favorites, if you couldn’t guess by now. Some might argue that the music and animation are dated, but watching it today still feels fresh and imaginative. I cannot recommend it enough.


Stop Motion and Hollywood

 Stop Motion and Hollywood

Part 1: Golden Age Hollywood

Part 1: Golden Age Hollywood

Welcome to Part 1 of a series that will be looking at stop motion, special effects, camera technique, film manipulation, the ‘Blue/Green Screen’ development, animated film, and Claymation. Some of it will be review, some technical, but mostly the goal is to inform. There are great men that have faded into obscurity, but remain titans of inspiration to the filmmakers of today. Hopefully this series will introduce artists to love, and add some fun factoids about those you know already.

This week, we’ll be looking at the Live Action works from the great lineage of Willis H O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen, and Jim Danforth. These three artists created some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history beginning in 1915 through to 1995. Their work set the blueprint for how films are still made today introducing split screens, matte paintings, claymation, and green screen techniques.

Willis H O’Brien and Live Action Animation

Every conversation about effects in film must start with a nod to the amazing Willis H O’Brien. While layer effects had been in use since 1898, O’Brien rose it to a higher level and dominated the box office culture. His blending of animation into live action and astounding clay movement blew away audiences in the early 1900’s. He was the original blockbuster fantasy movie maker, with his visual mastery taking over the more character and situation based films of early Hollywood.

The Lost World (1925)

The Lost World was O’Brien’s first major success, and the first major theatrical film with animation of this type. A lot of the work was made in a private studio, and they would use a clever marketing ploy to promote discussion. They released small clips of the animation but not where it came from, leading papers to talk of this ‘undiscovered world’ being secretly filmed. Also, because I find this hilarious…

The dinosaur miniatures were donated to the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. After many years the rubber models began to sulphurize and disintegrate. They were stored away and inadvertently sealed between the walls of the facility when a new wing was added.

Lost World would go on to drive the culture of cinema tracing all the way down to the blockbuster of this year, Jurassic World. The attention to detail and painstaking work may have always lived in the niche of short film, but O’Brien changed the game.

King Kong (1933)

After Lost World, O’Brien would animate one of the most widely known cultural figures of all time in King Kong. The filming would take over 8 months with actors having to hold positions for hours at a time to let the animators stage the scene properly. It was a technical marvel at the time, with O’Brien involved with forwarding the technology of integrated animation.

Whether you count the fascination with the ‘Jungle’ themes of early Hollywood and Colonial Europe or not, King Kong defined the genre. With countless remakes, adaptations, and references, the film has a staying power that cannot be denied. A lot of this is directly from O’Brien’s brilliant battle scenes and stunning Empire Shot that continue to be iconic even 80 years later.

Citizen Kane (1941)

Citizen Kane stands as one of the ‘greatest ever films’ for good reason, and a large portion of this comes from the amazing team behind the special effects. The cinematography, design, staging, and effects silently hold the film up as an example of mastery in everything in service to story.

Orson Welles was meticulous in every aspect, and when looking to make impossible shots possible, he turned to O’Brien. Using his practical effects and matte film style to draw out shots that are a signature of the film.


The most notable among these is the ‘Deep Focus’ shots. These were used to give the whole film a unique look and feel that would set the standard for every film after it. A game changing use of style.

O’Brien would black out a section of the camera and film two scenes on a single film reel. These had been used previously, dating back to the 1898 film Four Heads Are Better Than One, and has a long history that leads right into current day Green Screen effects.

The most famous of these scenes is probably the following. O’Brien mixed the film exposure and led into the deep focus shot. The glass and medicine are filmed first, blacking out everything else, then refilmed with that section covered and our actors in a new stage scene. Forcibly changing how the audience were able to focus on a shot.

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Mighty Joe Young came out in 1949, and the film was a monstrous undertaking with special effects taking over 14 months to complete. Most of this was done by the young Ray Harryhausen based on O’Brien’s design and storyboard.

The integration of live action and animation reached a smoothness that later Harryhausen films would make their signature. This was a continuation of the Citizen Kane technique, where they would black out certain sections of the shot and use marked sticks or people to mark the acting location. O’Brien would also make a lot of use of split-screen effects that made the movements seem in tune. These impressive feats earned O’Brien the Academy Award for Special Effects.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)

O’Brien would work on effects for another classic film in Mad World. By this point, a lot of his innovations in the 30’s and 40’s had been equaled or surpassed by technology, but when it came to practical effects O’Brien was the name to call. His signature Fire Escape scene, used a similar technique along with miniatures and stop motion.

Animated Shorts

O’Brien’s animated short, Tulips Shall Grow, was nominated for an Oscar in 1943. One of the best examples of an ‘in-world’ animation that bordered on claymation. This also began O’Brien’s training of his most famous student Ray Harryhausen, who worked on Mighty Joe Young as well.

Ray Harryhausen would also make a stream of short animations, including what is known as the ‘Harryhausen’s 6 Fairy Tales’. A collection of his animated shorts including Rabbit and the Hare which was made after his death.

Ray Harryhausen and ‘Dynamation’

Following the success of Mighty Joe Young, Ray ‘HH’ Harryhausen went on to make his signature style that would be called Dynamation. From the mid-50’s and through the 80’s, HH dazzled audiences with his life-like animation.

In 1953, HH would begin his stream of big budget film work. It began with The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and then 1955’s It Came From Beneath the Sea. Then he branched out from monsters in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and 20 Million Miles To Earth

He would continue to make and work in various Sci-Fi films throughout his career, but often was limited to a scene or two. In 1969, HH would release his final and by far the most difficult dinosaur film with The Valley of Gwangi

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad (1958)

High fantasy is where HH really hit his stride. The Sinbad film would be the first to be branded under his ‘Dynamation’ style. The interactive use of his creations changed the idea of animation in film. No longer were clever cuts and background film used to connect the actors to the creatures. WIth HH’s new techniques, the action felt visceral and living in a way that was another big change to audience expectations.

The film has endless fantastic scenes, notably an interactive snake dancing scene, the famous first skeleton battle, and a battle between a cyclops and a dragon! The latter battle scene took 3 weeks to complete and features a 3 foot long animated dragon. A fitting nod to O’Brien’s King Kong battle scene.

Jason and the Argonauts.(1963)

Jason and the Argonauts is one of the most widely known of the HH style films. His practical work to translate his creations to film would be used in basically every film afterwards. A semi-digital continuation of what he invented continues today with the full motion capture CGI effects.

The film would re-create the famous skeleton fight from 7th Voyage and feature one of the most impressive badass moments of stop motion to this day, TALOS! The mixture of background film, split shot, and moveable floor would create a fluidity to the action that holds it as one of the most inspirational moments in cinema history. Many directors like Spielberg and Lucas, along with animators like Tippette, would reference this as a major influence in their later works.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

The return of Sinbad would see some backlash due to the story going into a more campy direction, but the film would continue to drive forward the ability of practical effects mixing with animated.

The most impressive shot in the film would be the glorious fight with a 6 armed Kali. In order to create the effect, 2-3 men were used in a stilt system to swing the weapons and create a baseline for the actors to react too. Later, HH would insert the Kali into the film and animate based on the actions of the actors. A frame by frame process that required weeks of work.

Clash of the Titans (1981)

One of the last examples of a live action stop motion of this kind, coming in well past the age of newer tech featured in Star Wars and other films. While the style had been dated by that era, HH’s skill in directing the shots and designing physical effects were top notch.

The film would also team HH up with another of the greatest name in animated live action, Jim Danforth. Danforth had continued O’Brien’s styles of lifelike movement over integration and was brought in to make some of the scenes. Danforth’s work can be seen in the Kracken, two-headed wolf, and most of the Pegasus scenes. HH handled the tense interactive scene with Medusa.

Jim Danforth’s Sci-Fi and Puppetry

Jim Danforth is a prolific animator that grew out of the ideals of both O’Brien and Harryhausen. While his early films would use their fantasy settings and often copy the two men’s work, his shift into Sci-Fi was groundbreaking.

Danforth began his career working on The Time Machine, and a knock-off film of Harryhausen’s Sinbad film called Jack the Giant Killer. The latter film would bring 4 of the main actors from the 7th Voyage of Sinbad film, and had to make changes to avoid a lawsuit.

He would work on The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm that would lose out to Lawrence of Arabia at the Oscars that year for special effects. Then he would work on the film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World alongside O’Brien in 1963.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

Danforth’s breakout film would combine stop motion effects directly into the scene, removing a lot of the camera trickery used in Harryhausen’s films at the time. His scenes including the Loch Ness, a puppet snake, and Medusa hair, would earn his first direct Oscar nomination.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao would be joined in 1970 by When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth as Danforth’s most famous films. The latter film had some interesting work but is mostly known as a half hearted sequel to Harryhausen’s film One Million Years B.C, which is famous for being ‘that Raquel Welch movie’.

The Equinox (1970)

This mess of a film was created originally from a budget of $6,500 and moved around a bit before release. Danforth worked cel shading effects and helped in many areas, but a lot of the importance of the film is wrapped up in the next projects.

The writing team of the film moved onto make the cult hit Evil Dead series with Sam Raimi. Danforth brought the main beast into his next project, another cult favorite, Flesh Gordon.


This is also where Danforth met with Dennis Muren and Phil Tippett, the future leaders of Industrial Light & Magic. ILM would be the house of Go Motion animators that led the charge of Sci-Fi effects in movies for Spielberg, Cameron, and Lucas. We’ll explore Muren’s work more in the next Motion Animation post, but you may recognize a certain Wookie style from Equinox.

Flesh Gordon (1974)

Danforth would continue his use of puppets and integrated animation for one of the cultiest of cult hits. A pornographic and campy adventure series, Danforth asked to not be given credit but was eventually listed as Htrofnad Mij (backwards).

While working on the film, Danforth would train up and coming artists. Minor would go on to make the first 2 Star Trek films, including Wrath of Kahn. Jein worked on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Allen worked on series like Ghostbusters, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and the insanity of The Puppet Master. Rick Baker would also help in the film, one of the most prolific make-up and effect artists in the business. Baker had already made noise while working on The Exorcist, and went on to make Star Wars, An American Werewolf in London, and a plethora of films with the most recent being 2014’s Maleficent.

Jim Danforth (post-1974)

In 1981, Danforth would work on three different projects that returned him to the fantasy settings of old. One with Harryhausen on Clash of the Titans, making the Pegasus and Kraken scenes. Another was Caveman, starring Ringo from the Beatles. Danforth animated a T-Rex getting high by eating plants.

He was also connected with a remake of O’Brien’s King Kong film, but his project was shelved after director De Laurentiis released King Kong. The De Laurentis film was awarded an Oscar for best visual effects, despite the fact that the effects nominating committee for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had made no such recommendation (and the bulk of effects were actually shots of Rick Baker in an ape suit on a miniature set), Danforth quit the committee and the Academy in protest.

Equinox-foreground painting-Danforth

In 1974, his work brought him into the fold with John Carpenter‘s first major film Dark Star. This relationship continued in various films over two decades including Body Bags, They Live, Prince of Darkness, and Memoirs of an Invisible Man. Jim Danforth made a lot of cel shaded work, painted matte backgrounds, used stop motion, and puppets, depending on Carpenter’s needs.

Final Thoughts

Willis H O’Brien, Ray Harryhaunsen, and Jim Danforth were the revolutionary artists of their time. The stop motion, matte, and camera effects developed by these masters became the blueprint of Green Screen and Digital effects that took hold in the late 70’s. Without them, we may have never experienced the awe of Star Wars opening scene, or Kubrick’s practical stunt designs.

For a more detailed look at the Matte filming, Blue/Green Screen effects, and how they built up, FilmMaker IQ did this video that is pretty solid.

Part 2: The Digital Revolution

Dennis Murren, David W Allen, and Phil ‘Dinosaur Supervisor’ ‘You had one job!’ Tippett; They were the driving force of Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and every blockbuster effect seen today from Transformers to Avatar. We’ll look at some of their work and success in turning films digital for the new world.

GAT: Mobile Police Patlabor 2

Golden Age Theater

Mobile Police Patlabor 2

Mobile Police Patlabor 2


Directed by: Mamoru Oshii (Spotlight)

We are back in the golden territory again. Patlabor 2 is a magnificent classic that could hold its own with any film today.

Patlabor 2 was released 4 years after the first movie, and Mamoru Oshii had continued to drive digital animation forward. The animation is more crisp and full of motion past what could be done in the first film. Oshii had also seemingly found an interest in the spy thriller dynamic.

A Change in Focus

The Patlabor series had built its reputation based on the action, slice of life, comedy, and large cast interactions. A balanced effort to contrast the Space Opera heavy genre of Macross, Battleship Yamato, and Gundam. The first film, also done by Oshii, had dropped a lot of this in order to dish out the central narrative. It was a good film, but in this second outing Oshii really made what he wanted. He even reset by having a similar military introduction scene during the credits.


It has been 3 years since the events of the first film, and our cast has mostly moved on to other roles. They still back up our new main focus of the two commanders, but their story is moved out of view. Like poor Ota, having to teach newbies how to fight.

This serves a great dual purpose. Patlabor 2 can be a stand-alone film without the hinderance of the past unless convenient, and Oshii could question modern Japan’s society in a new context.

Goto’s Spy Diplomacy

The story revolves around a former military trainer, Labor innovator, and love interest of Commander Nagumo. He holds a grudge and uses a series of attacks framed as mistakes to force Japan’s upper management into an odd arms race against itself.

While this is all occurring, our clever friend Commander Goto is on a spy thriller chase to figure it all out. Dealing with a mysterious JSDF spook that is feeding out information, Goto is encouraged into investigating the events without raising a lot of noise. With the help of the Patlabor crew, Goto finds a way to get Nagumo through the battle field to meet our antagonist.


While Goto takes up a lot of the screen time, this is almost exclusively in long and very slow discussions of the politics involved with the matter, while panning over large industrial districts and aquarium tanks. The scenes are agonizingly slow, emphasising the non-action issues of the Japan society of the time. It draws every moment of tension into it, and just as you think that it cannot be handled anymore, GOTO SNAPS! Then it is a quick, action packed ride to Nagumo’s finale, leaving the audience drained from the experience.


The Beginning of Ghost in the Shell

While Patlabor 2 is a great movie on its own, the lineage to one of anime’s masterpiece works looms large. Goto and Nagumo are clear starting points for the later duo of GitS, and the social stances against the government does a slight shift into a social AI issue. The changes are big, and the films are both their own work, but seeing Oshii forming this style is very fun.

Nagumo’s journey is pretty stifled in the film, Goto doing most the work of filling air time, but her position within the story is central. From the friendly connected nature with her partner Goto, to the heart torn love of the past, her journey in the film is stunning. Her strength of character is like a bedrock that holds the whole film in place, both hindering and forwarding our plot.


Final Thoughts

Mobile Police Patlabor 2: The Movie. So far the best film in our Golden Age Theater project, and a solid recommendation for anyone looking for a great spy thriller film. The story is stand alone but knowing the previous works will add to the story as well.

Oshii’s direction, action, animation, music choice, and social commentary are all on point here. Goto and Nagumo hone a crafted central narrative that deals in pure diplomacy and brute force, with no romance and the only love interest is faceless for 90% of the film. Slow paced but fantastic in its control and release. A top notch anime that everyone should see.

GAT: Windaria (1986)

Golden Age Theater




Directed by: Kunihiko Yayama

Produced in 1986, the film is also known as ‘Once Upon A Time’ and was produced by the great Carl Macek. Windaria is the only full film release from Kanade Productions, a small studio that released a few OVA and one full series. Fujikawa‘s legendary script writing was the basis of the story, but a rare departure for the prolific Sci-Fi writer of Galaxy 999 and Battleship Yamato. Even the director, Yayama, would become famous mainly for his work on the Pokemon animated series.

Windaria can be seen as the attempt to achieve greatness in one area, by many artists better suited elsewhere. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli could rest easy, knowing that Laputa: Castle in the Sky would come out the same year. Fujikawa needs more time to really explore the ideas he puts forth, and it becomes quite a choppy narrative in Windaria.

A Shakespeare Tragedy

The story is set between two countries on the brink of war, and a peaceful village stuck between them. One pressures and attacks the other, while the prince and princess are in a R&J love story. Oddly, the story marks its focus on a different man, Izu, as main character and the three women that decide his fortune.


Izu begins as a peaceful farmer with dreams of grand spectacle, something fitting of the Princess that catches everyone’s eye, and for his beloved wife whom he adores. He fights for the Pora, the industrial aggressors, and ultimately wins the war. With gold, parties, and women offered, Izu forgets the promise to his wife. Eventually the country has the last woman attempt to kill him, leading him to run back to Windaria and his wife. She says ‘peace bro’ and dies after his return.

While the story is potent, and interesting when it rolls through, the lack of focus really hinders the experience. For 20 minutes, Izu is left bouncing around the industrial city doing nothing and being held back through illogical encounters. All the while, the Prince and Princess storyline anchors the story. After their ending, we return focus to Izu to wrap up his storyline, but it feels disconnected from the early portion of the film. It just didn’t click for me.

The Better Story

While the story is interesting, this journey that Izu takes is overshadowed by the much more interesting story of the Prince and Princess. Their story of love, determination, tradition, cultural pressure, and political obligation is what carries the first two thirds of the film.

I was captured right from the first moments of the Princess’ run to the ocean, right till their deathly meeting in battle.



This felt like the true heart of the film, but was cut up between Izu’s arc to the suffrage of both. Their story is disjointed, with central points being covered but reasoning thrown away. The Prince having to turn from the moral objection to war into the powerless ruler of a war machine, is completely brushed aside in the hopes that we’ll pick it up. The Princess also goes from peaceful lover to desperate heroine with very little to tie it together. I wanted more of this and less Izu.

In the same way, the inclusion of the village and giant tree of Windaria seems almost unnecessary. The delivery of the destroyed ocean city was more impactful than the grassy wasteland of battle. Even the war-torn metaphors are delivered elsewhere, like in the literally titled Forest of Doubt.


Final Thoughts

Windaria is visually quite impressive, and the musical score was fantastic. Even the story can be touching with the seeds of some very great ideas to explore. Ultimately though, it sacrificed too much of both stories for either to work as well as it should. Luckily, Fujikawa has explored these ideas in his other series with a lot more time to show the details.