Done by request of reader PurpleDynamite.
Masters of Horror was a horror anthology series that aired on premium cable channel Showtime in the United States. The series got together many of the most famous names in horror―”the “masters”―for a self-contained story every episode.
While being on a premium channel gave the series a lot more freedom then it would have had on broadcast or basic cable television, Showtime still felt the need to draw the line in a few places. One episode, “Jenifer”, had two graphic portrayals of oral sex removed, one of which ended in disembowelment.
Another episode, “Imprint”, was banned entirely from airing on the station. This episode was directed by Takashi Miike, who is well-known for his disturbing pieces of cinema such as Ichi the Killer and Visitor Q (at least in the West―Japanese audiences may be familiar with his work on family-friendly tokukatsu series and movie adaptations of video games).
Takashi stated that, during production, he “kept checking to make sure that I wasn’t going over the line, but I evidently misestimated.” However, the episode had no problem being broadcast internationally.
With the episode being shelved for broadcast in the United States, it became a marketer’s wet dream, the DVD cover having “BANNED FROM CABLE BROADCAST” in big, bold letters across the top.
The episode was released unrated on DVD in the United States (with a small “Contains Mature Content” box on the back cover), where it is allowed to. Where the disc had to be rated, it fell entirely into adult territory – 18 by the BBFC, R18+ in Australia, “R” in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and even an 18+ in Quebec (every other episode was rated as 13+ or 16+).
However, there was one country where the episode wasn’t able to pass at all – New Zealand. Now, New Zealand is no stranger to going against the common rating, refusing to classify things such as Gal*Gun: Double Peace, an uncut version of Hostel: Part II, Maken-ki!, and Puni Puni Poemy – all of which were passed in Australia. However, New Zealand has also been willing to classify a few things that didn’t make it in Australia, such as Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number and the uncensored version of South Park: The Stick of Truth.
So, what was it about this episode that made it too much for New Zealand? Let’s investigate.
First off, the basic plot of the episode: an American journalist named Christopher returns to Japan looking for the prostitute he fell in love with and promised to rescue. Of course, as this is Masters of Horror, Christopher is unable to find the woman of his dreams…instead, he encounters a disfigured girl who claims to know where the prostitute is, proceeding to tell him horrifying stories about her that cause him mental anguish.
In the first one of these stories, the disfigured girl tells Christopher that the prostitute was wrongfully accused of theft and tortured to confess. An extended torture sequence follows; three girls appear to be taking delight in torturing her (though we only see one doing most of the torturing). Her underarms are burnt and needles are driven under her fingernails and into her gums.
The scene is about five minutes long, and every aspect of the torture is extendedly depicted in a way that would make most viewers turn away/fast forward out of disgust. Furthermore, there is a certain sexualization to the scene, as the woman’s top is open, with her bare breasts visible during most of the attack. The gagging and facial expressions at some points are remnant of specific genres of Japanese (and even some American) pornography, something I’m sure Miike wasn’t unaware of. At the end of it, we see her spiraled out on the ground, needles sticking out of her mouth, breasts exposed. (I’m rather shocked the BBFC warned of “strong, bloody torture” rather than “strong sexualized torture.”)
All of this led to something that New Zealand felt was “a scene that depicts acts of torture and significant cruelty in a sexualised manner.” New Zealand’s OFLC asked the distributor to cut the scene altogether, but they refused to.
This decision matches with their decision for Hostel: Part II, which had a similarly sexualized torture scene cut to avoid “[promoting] and [supporting] acts of torture and the infliction of extreme violence and extreme cruelty.”
New Zealand’s OFLC seems to be very squeamish about sexualized violence and the ability for such scenes to appeal to a prurient interest…something that, considering what Google suggested for me while searching for the episode, they may have reason to believe.
Would “Imprint” still be controversial today? Absolutely. Would it still be objectionable in New Zealand? There’s a good chance, considering the board’s only increased their focus on sexual violence since 2009.
Would it still be too much for Showtime? Probably not. Premium cable’s only gotten rawer in its content, and Showtime’s library has included the Hostel films at some points.
Interestingly, the episode was shown edited on defunct horror-based cable network Chiller, undoubtedly with a TV-14 rating (the network never aired anything MA). I would be curious to see just how much of the torture was removed in that version.