Kanashimi no Belladonna – “The Sorrow of Belladonna”

August 30, 2012

I’m having a crack at James Joyce’s Ulysses at the moment, aware that the germs of many ideas which were to flourish in Finnegans Wake emerged in this earlier book.  Perhaps prompted by Stephen Dedalus musing on “Reading two pages apiece of seven books every night” (50)*, I followed a trail inspired by this short sentence on the next page: “About the nature of women he read in Michelet” (51), anticipating some clue about Joyce’s portrayal of the primary female characters in these two novels, Molly Bloom, Anna Livia Plurabelle and Issy.

If you use the internet as a means to explore anything then digression becomes the name of the game (just as it seems in the Wake) and the unexpected discoveries that result.  Jules Michelet wrote La Sorcière in 1862, a book in which medieval witchcraft is portrayed as an act of popular rebellion against the oppression of feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church, a rebellion that took the form of a secret religion inspired by paganism and fairy beliefs, organised by women (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satanism_and_Witchcraft).  Published in English in 1863 as Satanism and Witchcraft, it is a major source of the picture of an essentialised femininity which animates the masculine fantasies of writers like Robert Graves, the surrealists (and Joyce) as well as the ‘goddess spirituality’ of eco-feminism and some strands of modern paganism:

“Nature makes them Sorceresses,” – the genius peculiar to woman and her temperament.  She is born a creature of Enchantment.  In virtue of regularly recurring periods of exaltation, she is a Sibyl; in virtue of love, a Magician.  By the fineness of her intuitions, the cunning of her wiles – often fantastic, often beneficent – she is a Witch, and casts spells, at least and lowest lulls pain to sleep and softens the blow of calamity.

(Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition – Translated by A.R. Allinson, London: Tandem 1965, p.9).

This book also inspired a film that I hadn’t heard of until tonight (this full moon), Kanashimi no Belladonna (‘The Sorrow of Belladonna’), which depicts “the victimization of peasant woman Jeanne by the corrupt State and hypocritical Church of medieval France as well as her eventual rebellion against them via witchcraft (or more accurately, communion with nature)” (http://painterscolic.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/kanashimi-no-belladonna-translated-film-script/).  Raped on her wedding night by the feudal lord and spurned by her husband, she “eventually turns away from the civilization that betrayed and abused her to nature and Dionysian ideals; she becomes a witch” (http://tingedlilies.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/kanashimi-no-belladonna-woman-as-witch/).


Made in 1973 by an animation studio in Japan more noted for ‘sexploitation’ films, it is evidently pretty strong stuff, in tune it seems with the ‘sexual liberation’ of that time – erotic and psychedelic, but evidently marked by disturbing violence.  It was a commercial failure and has slipped into relative obscurity since.  Amidst the darkness, brutality and extreme sadness there are images of great beauty.  I’ll have to watch it.

*Pagination from the Penguin Classics edition of 2000.




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