Japanese Film Censorship – Privacy
December ’22 – NO Privacy: A L-O-N-G time ago, Japanese bureaucrats decided that films are not just visual story-telling platforms, they are public reality displays, because the audience – perhaps thousands of people – can see and hear anything portrayed in the film. The audience IS the public. They also decided that film censorship should be based on CULTURAL values, not just legal values.
In real life, Japanese people can openly do or say ‘adult’ things in private, but censorship treats everything in a film as ‘public’. A film can show a private space, but cannot show any adult activity taking place there. That would be ‘culturally offensive’. Not just extreme violence, sex or crime, but ANY adult activity, like displaying emotion or expressing private thoughts. As a result, Japanese films are very bland and featureless. The Privacy Ban does not affect foreign films.
A ‘Fiction Disclaimer’ (assuring audiences that the film does NOT represent reality) logically SHOULD allow a partial relaxation of the Privacy Ban. Story characters could then engage in mild adult-themed actions in a private space, which Japanese audiences KNOW is culturally acceptable. Audience members, instead of censorship officials, would make their own decisions about good or bad, like when reading a book, or watching a foreign film.
Without a Privacy Ban, foreign films routinely show things that would be considered rude if done or said by Japanese characters, but these films are shown in Japan anyway. Audiences accept that story characters are foreigners, so are often rude and impolite, by local standards, in public.
Solutions? Reversing the outdated Public Display ruling is very unlikely after decades of official enforcement. Cultural rules, not legal rules, are the issue. A slow, gradual relaxation of the Privacy Ban (perhaps only for films showing a Fiction Disclaimer) is one possible answer, since Japanese audiences readily accept films from all other countries, which routinely depict privacy. This would allow at least SOME adult-themed story elements to be shown, and would radically change the whole Japanese film industry, allowing it to compete with foreign film-makers. What the film-going general public wants doesn’t matter – what is culturally offensive is decided by bureaucrats, religious leaders and cultural pressure-groups. And, because censorship laws are political, any change will be slow!
One possible solution for film studios is to create a foreign company as their Executive Producer, so films would be ‘produced offshore’. MADE in Japan, set in Japan, telling a local story, but legally a foreign film, so without the restrictive Privacy Ban. Story characters would act like Japanese people, interacting on adult subjects, but ONLY in places depicted in the film as private. Story elements that could not be shown if the film was produced by a Japanese studio. Such films would appeal to international audiences, but also to Japanese audiences, finally seeing characters behaving in private spaces like normal Japanese people.
This strategy is more likely to succeed with Anime films, where characters are visibly artificial, so the story MUST be fiction. Live-action films with real actors could possibly represent reality, so would be more critically scrutinized. The ‘Offshore Production’ option could offer a quick solution to an old problem, and help force a change to the Privacy Ban. The international market for Japanese films is growing, but restricted by outdated cultural beliefs.
Another strategy would be to form a partnership with a foreign film studio to make adult-themed films set in some fictional land – NOT Japan. These films would be truly like foreign films, and could exploit the art-style and production values of Anime to tell stories with ‘international’ appeal – appealing to Japanese audiences, too – without any of the Japanese cultural restrictions imposed by absurd local censorship and the Privacy Ban. Love stories are a classic case. Without depicting emotion (considered culturally offensive under Japanese censorship laws), telling a love story is virtually impossible.
The other obvious way to address the Privacy Ban is by using clever scripting devices to blur story elements, making them seem less ‘public’, but that only partly solves the problem. SHOWING culturally-sensitive material in a film (a Public Display with the Privacy Ban still active) remains a censorship problem. I have made a separate page to cover those possibilities.
Anime, with its excellent art-style – visibly artificial, yet not cartoony – treats adult themes in a ridiculous way. Because of the Privacy Ban stifling adult content, they use magic as a metaphor for anything culturally offensive... which destroys all adult credibility. Anime films with adult themes look great, but make little story-telling sense. If Anime studios could tackle stories with adult themes, but without unnecessary official restraints, the results could be truly memorable!