Kiki's Delivery Service & Belladonna of Sadness

There may be those out there that think Japanese anime begins and ends with Studio Ghibli.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service is one of the favourites in their catalogue and it’s easy to see why so many young people adore this gem.

Kiki is a young wannabe witch, who aged thirteen moves on the night of a full moon to the picturesque seaside town of Korico. There, as part of an age-old tradition, she must spend a year alone as she trains to become a fully fledged witch – and learn to become independent and think for herself. Okay, I say alone but luckily she is able to take her talking black cat Jiji with her.

A budding young entrepreneur, Kiki sets up in business, offering a courier service for food deliveries. And she becomes adept at her job, flying across the sky on her broomstick, which handily means no traffic delays, albeit the weather can be a problem.


Kiki’s Delivery Service is timeless – made in 1989 it evokes the 1950s – and it’s charming as hell and without Hollywood animation’s usual tendency towards sickly sentimentality.

It’s one of the few animated films that turn me into a big softie as I watch and it left me, well, it left me bewitched.

Belladonna of Sadness is also an animated movie about a witch but there the similarities end. This was aimed at adults. There’s rape, corruption, famine, plague and death. If you thought Korico might be the perfect environment to live, the village where Belladonna of Sadness is set will strike you as a living nightmare.

While Kiki’s Delivery Service was a box-office smash in Japan and hugely popular around the planet, Belladonna of Sadness helped bankrupt its production company Mushi and was hardly seen outside Japan and certain parts of Europe.

Directed by Eiichi Yamamoto and inspired by Jules Michelet’s 1863 book Satanism and Witchcraft (which has often been debunked over the years), this anime has been called ‘disturbing animated feminist porn’, ‘an experimental rape-revenge jazz musical anime’ and ‘a glorious mindfuck.’

You’re sold, aren’t you?


The plot?

‘Once upon a time… a kind young man and beautiful young woman were joined in love,’ as the song that opens the film puts it. ‘Jean and Jeanette dancing in the shy of bliss. Smiled upon by God. Drunk on happiness.’

Needless to say, their loved-up honeymoon bliss isn’t going to last long.

As is the local tradition, the couple make an offering to a man who appears to be the feudal lord of the village. They gift him their only cow. He demands ten.


The animation here might strike modern viewers as rather antiquated, with the camera panning up, down and across large artworks. Aubrey Beardsley is definitely an influence, as is the art of Austrian expressionists such as Egon Schiele. Most of the images are created by thin washes of watercolour paint accompanied by gorgeous, sinewy lines, although in places the lines became blotchy like early Andy Warhol illustrations.

The imagery is often pretty psychedelic too – although released in 1973, the film was six years in the making, work starting as psych-rock was being taken up by a new breed of Japanese musicians.

Belladonna of Sadness still

In many ways, this is sometimes a tough watch but it is always a fascinating one and if you know of a better experimental rape-revenge jazz musical anime, please let me know.

After falling largely into obscurity, it was recently given a 4K digital restoration, and even gained a small scale theatrical release in 2016. It’s available to buy on Blu-ray.