Terayama Shuji 1935-1983
Hoso-tan aka A Tale of Smallpox (1975)
Terayama perceived a kindred sensibility in French playwright Antonin Artaud’s dark images of pestilence and plague, visualising the defiled body in A Tale of Smallpox as a challenge to a dominant culture of social harmony, consensus and avoidance of discord. 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.

For several minutes before and after the five minute mark the audio sounds as if a record was playing that was scratched. For this I apologize, but I have analyzed the audio with a couple of programs that reported no errors. Unless some cleaner audio turns up, I will go with the assumption that the soundtrack in part came from a record with a scratch on it.