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Tuesday, March 2, 2010
All movies subject to rating, even cuts
Independent body screens, and censors, flicks
By ALEX MARTIN
Moviegoers in Japan may have noticed that either during the opening or ending credits of a feature film, a mark appears on the screen bearing two kanji enclosed in a circle.
This logo is proof that the film has been rated by Eirin, the Film Classification and Rating Committee, an independent, nongovernmental organization that has been responsible for classifying motion pictures in Japan for the past five decades.
Despite controversy over its censorship of sexually explicit or violent footage, to this day Eirin remains the sole organization handling the task of rating films, and its history mirrors the public's changing attitudes toward what is and isn't socially acceptable.
Following are questions and answers about Eirin and its classification of visual content:
What is Eirin's history?
During the war, the government censored films. It had a division dedicated to the task in the then Interior Ministry's Police Bureau. Censorship eventually came under the 1939 motion picture law.
During the Occupation, the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces assumed the film-censorship duty until 1949, when the nation's motion picture industry formed a self- regulating organization based on the code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which later became the Motion Picture Association of America.
The predecessor to Eirin, the Eiga Rinri Kitei Kanri Iinkai (Motion Picture Code of Ethics Committee) was established in 1949, but faced criticism for hiring examiners who belonged to the movie industry that financed the body, and over the social uproar that emerged with the sex and rebellion depicted in some films, such as Nikkatsu's, "Season of the Sun" ("Taiyo no Kisetsu"), a controversial youth film about the decadent lifestyle of upper-class high-schoolers, based on the Akutagawa Prize-winning novel by Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
Responding to such criticism, in 1956 Eirin recruited outside experts to its commission and reorganized into a self-financing body. It also changed its name to Eirin Kanri Iinkai, establishing the basis for the current body.
How does Eirin classify films?
It surveys eight criteria — theme, language, sex, nudity, violence, horror, drug use and criminal behavior, and context — and sorts the film in one of four categories.
Like movies in the United States and Britain, "G" stands for general viewing and means the film is suitable for audiences all ages.
"PG 12" means parental guidance is requested for those under 12 years of age.
"R 15+" is for only those 15 and above, while "R 18+" is only for those 18 and above.
There is no uniform global standard for rating or censoring movies because such activities are based in large part on religion and culture.
Australia and Brazil, for example, each have an official government body that rates films. The U.S. and Britain use industry committees.
Since Eirin's rating system is based somewhat on the U.S. and British model, its age restrictions are similar, although the Americans and the British have more categories.
In a recent spat over its ratings, director Kinji Fukasaku submitted an appeal against Eirin in 2000 for receiving an R 15+ rating for his controversial action flick, "Battle Royale," which depicted junior high school kids stranded on an island and forced to murder one another for their own survival.
Fukasaku, however, dropped the appeal after lawmakers began criticizing both his film and Eirin's rating system. The move was seen as a bid to placate the Diet and to prevent stricter rules.
How does Eirin deal with sexually explicit material?
Law forbids films from depicting sexual organs and indecent images of minors.
Censorship of sexually explicit content, however, led to the creation and popularity of soft-core porn, or "pink films," starting in the 1960s. By the 1980s, however, adult videos had become the norm.
Because Eirin banned the the display of genitalia or pubic hair, fogging it out or blurring it with a digital mosaic, the producers of pink films developed elaborate ways to sidestep censorship, using various props positioned at strategic locations to hide taboo areas.
Despite a drastic decline in the popularity of pink films in recent years, the genre still enjoys a cult following domestically and overseas.
Currently, Eirin allows the screening of foreign films that display female or male genitalia if the material is not pornographic and fulfills certain conditions.
In the case of adult porn videos and games, several self- regulating organizations are responsible for the screening process and with advising member companies on the changes needed to avoid breaking the law.
Such organizations include the Nihon Ethics of Video Association (Biderin), which was the oldest of the lot but ceased screening activities after it was raided by police in 2007, the Ethics Organization of Computer Software (Sofurin), and the Contents Soft Association.
Who works at Eirin?
The body tasks five commissioners of various professional backgrounds with executing its policies, maintaining its category divisions and appointing examiners.
The management team consists of five staff members and nine examiners who are responsible for reviewing films and trailers, making category decisions, and advising on cuts or modifications.
According to Kiyotoshi Kodama, Eirin's secretary general, at least two film examiners are responsible for viewing a single movie.
"By simple arithmetic, considering that we handle around 600 films per year, a single examiner would view roughly 150 films during the course of a year," he said.
Kodama said that since the examiners base their evaluations on set principles, their ratings in most cases are unanimous.
But on those rare occasions when examiners disagree, or when the film's applicant objects to an assigned rating, a film can be brought back for further consideration by other examiners.
Although Eirin has no legal power to ban a film, the rules stipulated by the Japan Association of Theatre Owners, which covers the owners of most of the nation's cinemas, forbids its members from screening films that haven't been classified and OK'd by Eirin.
How does Eirin fund itself?
Its income is derived entirely from examination fees, which are currently ¥2,740 per minute, plus tax.
Eirin's Kodama said the group has nine full-time examiners who will be allowed to retire at age 67. Most are in their early 60s, he said.
The examiners have a wealth of knowledge on motion pictures and usually have some experience working in the film industry.