Copyright © 2000. All Rights Reserved
by John Tebbutt
Article 175 of the Japanese Criminal Code was written with the intention of protecting the people from obscenity. The law is somewhat vaguely worded, but until quite recently (the mid-90s, actually), it was interpreted as forbidding the depiction of pubic hair or genitalia in any visual or audio medium of art or entertainment. This law is much more uptight and conservative than the people themselves are, which has led to some very interesting results in Japanese film over the years. Im against censorship in principle, but it seems like some of the most fascinating works of art come from cultures that suffer heavy censorship its as though having something to fight against is like a fertilizer for creativity.
For years, Laser Disc owners who import their discs from Japan (which is the best way to acquire rare videos on this format) have become accustomed to the practice of optical censorship, in which an otherwise untampered-with film shows nude characters with their privates digitally scrambled, or obscured by black dots or optical "fogging."
A few examples:
In the Japanese Laser Disc of Jodorowskys The Holy Mountain, almost all of the nude characters have fuzzy white circles over their crotches. One guys circle simply disappears after the camera pulls back to about 50 meters away (I guess that at that distance its no longer obscene), and a black woman wearing only ceremonial paint and jewelry isnt censored at all. (A friend of mine found this bizarrely racist.)
The notorious Italian gore epic Cannibal Holocaust is available on disc with all of the horrifying violence intact, but the tame National Geographic-style nudity is optically censored. Weird.
Clearly, when censorship dots are added onto foreign product that wasnt designed for them, the results are a bit odd. On the other hand, Japanese animators have used censorship dots to make sex scenes seem more explicit than they actually are. (When you see a censorship dot, you automatically assume that youre watching something "forbidden," which is the whole point.)
Theres a scene in Rei Rei (1993) in which Pipi (the heroines short, misshapen manservant) tells a character that "its time to face the naked truth." The camera pans down, revealing that Pipis pants are open, with his enormous "naked truth" digitally scrambled. When I saw this, everybody in the room shrieked and laughed with shock and embarrassment. It couldnt have worked better if it were the real thing.
Censorship dots are usually removed from erotic anime for the North American market. This creates some bizarre impressions, because when you remove the dot, theres nothing behind it! (Why would an animator risk imprisonment by drawing pubic hair, when he knows that it will just be censored anyway?) This is why so much erotic anime seems to be populated with sexless Ken dolls.
In any case, Japanese animators have found ingenious ways to get around Article 175:
In part 3 of F3: Frantic, Frustrated and Female (1995), the female protagonist magically acquires a penis. This can be shown, because it obviously cant be a real penis. Girls dont have such things, silly.
Urotsukidoji (1987 - 91) is the show that single-handedly launched the "tits and tentacles" genre of anime. All kinds of graphic acts can be shown because, after all, a tentacle is not a penis. It can look like one, behave like one and ejaculate like one, but it obviously isnt a penis. After Urotsukidoji, tentacles became very popular with animators.
Welcome To The Ogenki Clinic (1991) features a sex therapist character with an enormous schlong. This cartoonish member can be shown because it doesnt look realistic. For one thing, its five-feet long. Its also got a face, glasses and a moustache. It even talks. Youd be forgiven in assuming that you are actually looking at a pair of siamese twins joined at the crotch. (It even looks just like the doctor.) Meanwhile, all of the other characters have smooth, featureless crotches where their censorship dots used to be. Funny!
Times change. Today, Japanese artists are free from much of the restrictions of Article 175, while over here, the North American release of Eyes Wide Shut has been optically censored.
Maybe we should all start making naughty cartoons...
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