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Smallpox Tale 1975

The smallpox virus has created its own unique atmosphere in Terayama’s film where the skin of a bandaged adolescent and the surface of the filmic image are subjected to a bizarre ‘disturbance’ as snails cross the screen and nails are hammered into the skull of the ailing patient. Illness in this film is as much a psychic entity as a physical one and manifests itself in an array of theatrical tableaux from grotesque women rigorously brushing their teeth to a snooker game where the players in white face makeup behave like automata. A Tale of Smallpox uses a medical theme to chart the traumatic dream life of Terayama’s times, evincing deep-rooted concerns in the Japanese national psyche that hark back to the upheaval of Meiji modernisation and the devastation of World War Two.

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