In 1973, the United States wasn't quite ready for Belladonna of Sadness, Eiichi Yamamoto's erotic animated adaptation of French historian Jules Michelet’s 1862 tome La Sorcière. Though there's movement, which builds to a stroboscopic crescendo toward the end, Yamamoto relies largely on static, richly-hued watercolors and oil paintings to tell the story of Jeanne (voiced by Aiko Nagayama), a beautiful weaver in a feudal village where poverty and marriage don't mix (at times, the art recalls Mœbius's storyboards for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune adaptation).
If the Skeletor-like lord won't allow Jeanne and Jean to live in peace until they pay him off, he's happy to use her body as a play toy. When a penis-shaped imp (Kurasawa favorite Tatsuya Nakadai) drops by to offer his assistance, who is Jeanne to resist? As she learns to harness the dark arts, she gains wealth, power, and the confidence to walk around without clothes, while Masahiko Satō’s score—a mélange of free jazz and psychedelia—punctuates the narrative, much as in Alain Goraguer's work for Fantastic Planet. If the sexual politics are dodgy, the artistry is impossible to deny.
Making its US debut, this beautifully restored version combines the sexually-charged atmosphere of 1974's soft-core fantasia Emmanuelle with the anything-goes spirit of 1977's horror whatsit House.