Wednesday, January 14, 2004

BBC - Japanese Manga Ruled Obscene

Here's a ruling that illustrates a contradiction in Japanese attitudes towards sexually explicit media. On the one hand, erotica and pornography are everywhere in Japan, and much of it takes forms most Westerners would find scandalous - good old-fashioned "lolicon" ("lolita complex", or the fetishization of teenage schoolgirls), anime with tentacle-rape demons (whose victims of choice are, again, teenage schoolgirls), "cosplay" ("costume play", or people dressing up as anime characters for erotic adventures) and other such weirdness; on the other hand, Japanese law forbids the explicit display of genitals in pornographic movies, which goes some way to explain the otherwise inexplicable (to me, anyway) appeal of "bukkake" videos.*

A Tokyo court has ruled a Japanese cartoon book obscene, in a landmark court case that sparked debate on freedom of expression and the position of the country's ubiquitous 'manga' cartoons.

Monotori Kishi, a 54-year-old publisher, was handed a one-year prison sentence, suspended for three years, for violating Japan's penal code on the sale and distribution of obscene literature.

Presiding Judge Yujiro Nakatani said Misshitsu, or Honey Room, was too graphic.

"Bodies were drawn in a lifelike manner with little attention to concealment (of genitalia), making for sexually explicit expression and deeming the book pornographic matter," Mr Nakatani said.

About 45% of all books and periodicals sold in Japan are manga. They often contain sexual material.

"Given what's available it seems an extraordinary decision," said the BBC's Tokyo correspondent, Jonathan Head.

"There is so much pornography available in Japan in every form - in films, computer games, cartoons and famously manga and anime - those books of cartoons you can see men reading openly on the train everyday," he told the East Asia Today programme.

*I realize that this sort of thing has now made its way to the West, but given the sheer variety of sexually-explicit alternatives available over here, the fact that anyone in the US or Europe would plump for such a thing is, if anything, far more perverse than that it should appeal to the Japanese.