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[sic]

Eric Baudelaire

Japan, , 2009
15 minutes, Colour, Stereo, 4:3
Original format: SD video
Available formats: SD Digital file

In a Kyoto bookstore, an employee receives a parcel of new books. She methodically leafs through them, scratching the surface of certain pages with a blade in an extrapolation of the use of bokashi, a Japanese practice of self-censorship wherein obscenity is defined as “that which unnecessarily excites or stimulates sexual desire.” In a poetic of the absurd, the film extends the bokashi gesture beyond the question of desire, in a ritual that doubles as a meditation on what an image does, or can do.

CHRONOLOGY

1907

Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code outlaws the sale and public display of “an obscene document, drawing or other object.”

1947

Article 21, paragraph 2, of the postwar Japanese Constitution reads “no censorship shall be maintained.”

1957

The Japanese Supreme Court upholds a ban on D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In the main piece of jurisprudence seeking to clarify the apparent contradiction between Article 21 of the Constitution and Article 175 of the Penal Code, the high court upholds the ban on obscenity, which it defines as “that which unnecessarily excites or stimulates sexual desire.”

1976

Nagisa Oshima’s Ai No Corrida (In the Realm of the Senses) is shown at the Cannes Film Festival. The film was shot in Kyoto, but the negative was developed and cut in Paris. As a trial balloon for a release of the film in Japan, a book containing the script and twelve film stills is published in Tokyo. In July the publisher is charged with obscenity. During the trial, Oshima requests that the high court explain the philosophical, political, legal, conceptual and practical visual standards used to define “that which unnecessarily excites or stimulates sexual desire.”

1982

The Japanese Supreme Court declines to clarify the concept of obscenity any further, but nonetheless acquits Oshima. In a legal and semantic grey area that remains to this day, graphic materials imported into Japan are subject to subjective self-censorship: explicit anatomical representation is replaced with “bokashi,” a fogging, blurring or scratching of male and female genitalia in films and publications.

2008

In a warehouse in Yokohama, employees of Yohan, a foreign magazine distributor, individually leaf through stacks of imported art and fashion publications, deciding where to apply the blade that will delicately scratch ink off the surface of certain pages.