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The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan

Kirsten Cather

Publication Year: 2012

In 2002 a manga (comic book) was for the first time successfully charged with the crime of obscenity in the Japanese courts. In The Art of Censorship Kirsten Cather traces how this case represents the most recent in a long line of sensational landmark obscenity trials that have dotted the history of postwar Japan. The objects of these trials range from a highbrow literary translation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and modern adaptations and reprintings of Edo-period pornographic literary “classics” by authors such as Nagai Kafu to soft core and hard core pornographic films, including a collection of still photographs and the script from Oshima Nagisa’s In the Realm of the Senses, as well as adult manga. At stake in each case was the establishment of a new hierarchy for law and culture, determining, in other words, to what extent the constitutional guarantee of free expression would extend to art, artist, and audience.

The work draws on diverse sources, including trial transcripts and verdicts, literary and film theory, legal scholarship, and surrounding debates in artistic journals and the press. By combining a careful analysis of the legal cases with a detailed rendering of cultural, historical, and political contexts, Cather demonstrates how legal arguments are enmeshed in a broader web of cultural forces. She offers an original, interdisciplinary analysis that shows how art and law nurtured one another even as they clashed and demonstrates the dynamic relationship between culture and law, society and politics in postwar Japan.

The Art of Censorship will appeal to those interested in literary and visual studies, censorship, and the recent field of affect studies. It will also find a broad readership among cultural historians of the postwar period and fans of the works and genres discussed.

13 illus.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

I begin by telling two stories: first, of the book that I didn’t write and then of the one I did. Although both reflect my enduring interest in censorship, the present book has been shaped by the earlier, aborted attempt and its perceived limitations and pitfalls...

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pp. 1-8

When Ayatollah Khomeini ordered a fatwa death curse against Salman Rushdie for writing the blasphemous Satanic Verses, V. S. Naipaul quipped, “Well, it’s an extreme form of literary criticism.” His statement provoked the anger of Rushdie’s supporters and the literary world. If he had made the more obvious analogy of the...

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PART I East Meets West, Again: Trying Translations

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pp. 9-18

The obscenity trials of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in Japan from 1951 until 1957 established an enduring legal precedent that would continue to be invoked with great success for over half a century in a series of judicial proceedings against literature, film, photography, art, and, eventually, manga (comics). Unlike the case in Britain and in the United States...

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Chapter 1 Lady Chatterley’s Censor (1951–1957)

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pp. 19-66

In 1949, Oyama Hisajirō, owner of Oyama Publishing, approached respected critic, author, and translator Itō Sei about translating Chatterley as part of a planned series of Lawrence’s collected works. His decision to ask Itō was a natural one, since...

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Chapter 2 The Legacy of Chatterley: Sade (1961–1969) and Beyond

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pp. 67-76

The Chatterley trial deeply influenced subsequent proceedings despite the many differences that divided them—from the objects on trial and the historical contexts of their production and reception to the individual personalities of the defendants. Before...

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PART II Pinks, Pornos, and Politics

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pp. 77-84

Unlike their literary precedents, the objects of prosecution in Japan’s film trials are less assuredly classics. Black Snow (Kuroi yuki, 1965; directed by Takechi Tetsuji) belonged to the burgeoning genre of Pink Film (pinku eiga), low-budget erotic B productions...

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Chapter 3 Dirt for Politics’ Sake: The Black Snow Trial (1965–1969)

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pp. 85-115

As the first postwar censorship proceedings against a film, the Black Snow trial established a revised template that took into account both the existence of a self-regulatory body like Eirin for film and the inherent differences between the media of literature...

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Chapter 4 Dirt for Money’s Sake: The Nikkatsu Roman Porn Trial (1972–1980)

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pp. 116-152

In 1971, amid a climate of increasingly liberalized sexual expression both domestically and internationally and a severe economic crisis for the Japanese film industry, Nikkatsu Roman Porn was born. It would prove to be the financial salvation of Nikkatsu..

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PART III The Canon under Fire

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pp. 153-155

A striking shift occurred in the kind of literature targeted in the 1970s landmark obscenity trials. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s the translated works of Lawrence and Sade were the objects on trial, in the 1970s works with conspicuous ties to canonized...

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Chapter 5 Pornographic Adaptations of the Classics: The Safflower (1948–1950) and The Record of the Night Battles at Dannoura (1970–1976)

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pp. 156-166

In late 1948, publisher Matsukawa Ken’ichi was indicted for the publishing, sales, and possession of 1,400 copies of The Safflower and for selling 170 copies of a privately published secret edition of Kafū’s “Yojōhan.” In the Tokyo District Court verdict...

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Chapter 6 Kafu: Censored, Dead or Alive (1948–1950, 1973–1980)

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pp. 167-192

It is altogether fitting that the author Nagai Kafū marks both the beginning and the end of Japan’s landmark literary obscenity trials. He is an author known equally well for his immaculate high style as for the rather “maculate contents” of his fiction, for dabbling...

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PART IV Trying Text and Image

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pp. 193-196

The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” suggests that images are inherently more powerful than texts. The perceived power of images, in turn, has encouraged their association with obscenity. As Frederic Jameson has provocatively put it, “the visual is essentially pornographic.”1 Stanley Cavell has claimed that the “ontological...

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Chapter 7 A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: In the Realm of the Senses (1976–1982)

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pp. 197-220

The book Realm is divided into three discrete sections: first, twenty-four 7-by-10-inch color still photographs; second, the original screenplay that was distributed to the actors and staff prior to making the film; and third, several essays of criticism by Ōshima. In the tersely worded indictment, twelve of these photos and nine passages...

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Chapter 8 Japan’s First Manga Trial: Honey Room (2002–2007)

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pp. 221-272

In 2002, after a twenty-year lull without a single notable obscenity trial,1 a manga (comic book) was tried for violating the obscenity law, going all the way to the Supreme Court in June 2007. Despite the consistent guilty verdicts at all three phases, the outcome was not entirely a defeat for the defense, which managed to get the...


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pp. 273-274


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pp. 275-306

Works Cited

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pp. 307-320


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pp. 321-334

E-ISBN-13: 9780824865733
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824835873

Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Censorship -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Japanese literature -- 20th century -- Censorship.
  • Fiction -- Censorship -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Motion pictures -- Censorship -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
  • Trials (Obscenity) -- Japan -- History -- 20th century.
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