Protecting Youth and Regulating Speech, Battle Royale

Udo Helms ahura_matsda
Sun Jan 21 23:20:06 EST 2001

Battle Royale is actually not the first recent film to irritate authorities 
because of its violent content; in 1996, Shabu Gyakudo (dir. Hosono 
Tatsuoki) was the first film to receive a "seijin eiga" rating by Eirin for 
its violent content.

The Yakusho Koji-vehicle subsequently ran into trouble with Eirin`s 
equivalent for the video industry, Biderin, because of its title: shabu is a 
slang word for the morphine drug hiropen, in wide use in postwar years and 
therefore "not suitable to the public" according to Biderin`s inspectors. 
The tape was released as "Osaka Gyakudo Daikassen", I think - with a marker 
saying "shown in theatres as Shabu Gyakudo".

Other violence-related problems with Eirin occured with Iwai Shunji`s 
"Swallowtail Butterfly" (stricter rating for juvenile delinquency) and 
Hayashi Kaizo`s "Wana" (The trap) (cuts on scenes regarded as incentive to 
violence). I do not know of any cases leading up to Battle Royale, but I am 
not sure how "Dead or Alive" fared - did the opening sequence survive Eirin?

It is true that there is a considerable influence of police on Eirin and 
Biderin (many of the latter`s staff are former police inspectors). With 
Biderin far outweighing Eirin in economical importance for the film industry 
(video retail beats exhibition profits by at least 20 times), this means 
that a conservative trend in the Keishicho may lead the industry to 
self-censor its products more diligently.

But the pattern in these cases usually is that every few years a certain 
picture gets a decent public wipping, authorities talk about reforming 
juvenile protection laws, and then it is business as usual. It is 
regrettable though that the introduction of a new age limit (PG12) in 1998 
and other attempts at reform have helped Eirin little to retreat from 
monitoring film contents and administer age classification instead. And the 
Battle Royale controversy won`t contribute to this necessary transition.

Udo Helms
University of Tokyo

>From: Aaron Gerow <gerow at>
>Reply-To: KineJapan at
>To: "KineJapan" <KineJapan at>
>Subject: Re: Protecting Youth and Regulating Speech
>Date: Fri, 19 Jan 01 17:34:33 +0900
> >Perhaps some of you can enlighten me on this one: just where do the
> >Japanese censorship laws begin and end?
>As someone who has studied the subject but is still trying to figure it
>out, Japanese censorship regulations can seem arbitrary, inconsistent,
>and illogical (though so can those of other countries).  But there is a
>structure to it.
>Basically, the first thing to know is that censorship is strictly
>prohibited by Article 21 of the Constitution.  However, as with most
>countries that protect free speech, there are exceptions for obscenity.
>Distribution of obscene materials is prohibited by Article 175 of the
>Criminal Code.  The definition of obscenity, however, has always been the
>problem.  Frankly, there is no law defining it and the reigning
>precendent in court law is still the 1957 decision banning the
>publication of the translation of Lady Chatterly's Lover.  Basically, it
>gives a lot of leeway to the police and prosecutors to define what they
>think is obscene.  (See my article on the In the Realm of the Senses case
>in the January 2000 Yuriika).  Historically, the police are much more
>concerned with "public" obscenity, which is why they don't go after small
>experimental films which sometimes have plenty of genitals and sex.  One
>can also see differences in attitudes towards different media:
>literature, for instance, can get away with a lot more than visual media
>like film or photography, and drawn manga more than "realistic"
>photography.  The police, since they cannot check everything published,
>are also notorious for using "example" cases--usually prominent figures
>or publications--to reassert their authority and publicize their
>definitions of obscenity.  They thus rely a lot on industry
>self-censorship (prompted by these occasional example cases), which does
>result in a lot of things getting through.
>The problem with film is that not only the police, but also Customs and
>Eirin regulate it, and each can have different standards.  Customs can
>block the importation of obscene materials under Article 21 of the
>Customs and Tariffs Act, but in recent years it has in fact been the most
>liberal.  Eirin has no governmental authority, but is basically a
>self-regulatory agency funded by the fees it charges for inspection (thus
>making it less dependent upon the industry).  Yet some court cases in
>which Eirin was involved (like the Nikkatsu Roman Poruno case)
>effectively resulted in the court declaring that Eirin's decisions have
>some public authority--as if it is a substitute for government
>regulation.  Eirin's definitions of what's bad have changed over the
>years, for instance adding "in principle" before its code banning pubic
>hair in the early 90s.  It has usually been stuck between the liberal
>Customs and the strict police, the latter which has at least twice
>specifically targeted Eirin regulators for prosecution.  Beyond the
>police regulation, based on criminal law, I should also mention that
>local governments have issued bylaws on their own trying to regulate
>harmful elements relating to film.
>Historically, censorship in Japan after the war has more strongly
>restricted sex than violence.  In fact, I know of no major case, either
>in law or with regard to Eirin, that caused a furor simply because the
>object was too violent. Battle Royale may be the first (though correct me
>if I'm wrong). Recent concern over youth violence, however, has shifted
>attention a bit, evinced by changes in Eirin's ratings system.
>It is true that one sees a lot more sex and violence in materials kids
>can get a hold of in Japan than in many other countries.  Perhaps this
>reflects a laissez-faire attitude towards these matters, but do remember
>there have been several historical moments with regard to film or manga
>when public calls for more censorship did result in more industry
>The vending machine thing was always curious, but in many localities, it
>is a thing of the past.  Many localities have already banned those
>vending machines for liquor.  Yes, it was a glaring oversight, possibly
>having to do with the problems of regulating distribution and the lack of
>clear regulations about selling to minors.  Japan is still working with a
>Criminal Law first written in 1921 which still has a lot that is out of
>date or needs revision.  The Child Pornography Law is one such case of a
>The LDP's recent moves in some way represent an effort to eliminate the
>inconsistencies between localities (with different bylaws) and in
>regulation of different media.  That's one reason why so many are worried
>about them.
>Aaron Gerow
>Associate Professor
>International Student Center
>Yokohama National University
>79-1 Tokiwadai
>Hodogaya-ku, Yokohama 240-8501
>E-mail: gerow at
>Phone: 81-45-339-3170
>Fax: 81-45-339-3171

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