What can I say about Belladonna of Sadness (no link since the film is NSFW as all get out) that hasn't been said already? The brainchild of legendary animator Osamu Tezuka's first studio, Mushi Productions and based on the book Satanism and Witchcraft by Jules Michelet, it's legendary and breathtaking. The art is very much inspired by Gustav Klimt, and makes excellent work of such styles as limited animation, while switching to a psychedelic fluidity rarely seen in animation of that period (there's no way that I can call this an anime, not as experimental as it is.) The voice acting is far above what you would expect for the time, as they used well-known actors for the roles (back then, the seiyu industry was not as big or glamorous as is it is now.)
I also found out it influenced one of my favorite anime of all time, Revolutionary Girl Utena (which in and of itself is a masterpiece of WTFery.)
I had the chance to watch it in preparation for Halloween. And Halloween really doesn't cut it. I'm not sure there's a holiday that does.
Let's get the basics out of the way. Wikipedia has the best descriptor of the plot:
Jeanne and Jean are happy newlyweds in a rural village in France during the Medieval Period. Their idyll is promptly shattered when Jeanne, on her wedding night, is raped in a ritual deflowering by the local baron and his courtiers. She returns to Jean terrified and in pain, and he calms her, saying, "Let us forget everything in the past". She begins to see visions of a phallic-headed spirit encouraging her to take revenge on the baron; meanwhile, the couple's fortunes rise even as famine strikes the village and the baron raises taxes to fund his war effort. Jean is made tax collector, and the baron cuts off his hand as punishment when he cannot extract enough money from the village. After another visit from the spirit, Jeanne takes out a large loan from an usurer and sets herself up in the same trade, eventually parlaying it into becoming the true power in the village.
Then the baron returns victorious from his war, and his wife, envious of the respect and admiration accorded Jeanne, calls her a witch and has her driven out. Jeanne first tries to return to the home she shares with Jean, but he refuses to open the door for her and she flees into the forest nearby where she finally makes a pact with the spirit, who reveals himself to be the Devil. She is granted considerable magical powers, and uses them to lead a rebellion in the village.
As you will have undoubtedly noticed by the trailer, the film is a breathtaking masterpiece. But keep in mind two things:
1. It's the kind of film you only watch once, to quote a friend. He's right. The film is so out there and cerebral that it's somewhat exhausting. I recall watching it during a workday at one in the morning and believe me, I was fried when it was done. If you're not prepared, it's a slog. Even if you are prepared, it's a ninety-minute marathon.
2. The trailer is the clean version. The Red Band is out there, but I'm not going to link it here. What you see in the regular trailer doesn't even touch the surface in terms of the nightmarish imagery and certainly doesn't even begin to talk about the eroticism and related things. There's a lot of noodz. A lot. More so, this isn't the pow-chicka-pow-wow that you might expect. It's distributing, psychotic and will make you wonder what the animators were smoking.
And there's the unbridled feminist message. Believe me, that's not a bad thing, all things considered. And the endgame of the film does point out some fact in fiction. Regardless, it gets there in a really, really twisted way, but it doesn't take away anything from that message. And given both its pedigree and the path it forged, it is worth everything it has engendered.
Still, it's fucked up. And that ain't going to change. If you're of age, I'd say give it a watch. But trust me, you probably won't want to watch it twice.