Are sexy Japanese games forcing international rating boards to reconsider their approaches?

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DISCLAIMER: This article contains animated images of a sexually suggestive nature under the “read more” area.

One of the most common misconceptions about Japan is that everything is more uncensored there and that their media market is pretty much a free-for-all. While it is true that violence and sexual humor are more acceptable in children’s cartoons there, Japan still has its own rating boards that have their own specific issues.

Oddly enough, one of Japan’s biggest hang-ups is with explicit nudity. Genitalia always has to be pixelated or otherwise obscured from view, even in pornography. From what I saw of a Japanese cut of Fifty Shades of Grey, any sexualized nudity (for example, bare breasts during a sex scene) is unacceptable in film even at Eirin’s R15+ category and will require an R18+. But by the far the strictest on nudity is CERO, the rating board in charge of console games, who won’t allow any depictions of female nipples even in a CERO Z (18+) game.

This has been an issue for some big games such as Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption, which have had to make edits for the Japanese market to remove explicit nudity and sex scenes. Eroge developers have also had to make severe edits upon their stories becoming successful enough for a console release.

However, for some specific groups of Japanese developers, the CERO guidelines aren’t as much of a restriction as they are a challenge. These developers are determined to make innuendo-laden and sexually-charged storylines, pushing the guidelines and exploiting loopholes in what CERO will allow. Every artist has the extra challenge of how to make an image of a female without nipples as titillating as possible.

Continue reading “Are sexy Japanese games forcing international rating boards to reconsider their approaches?”

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BBFC 15, MPAA PG-13: An analysis of who got it right(-ish)

Done by request of reader David.

UPDATE/REDACTION: Oopsie. Taken has been replaced by Nerve. Turns out the 15-rated cut of Taken by the BBFC is less edited then the PG-13 one. I still believe that the BBFC’s 15 is right for the MPAA’s PG-13 cut, but I don’t think it’s fair on this list to put different cuts against each other. Thanks to Robert Bavister for pointing this out.

“Well, that doesn’t seem fair.”

A common response from British preteens when they find out a film that had been awarded a PG-13 by the MPAA has got a 15 from the BBFC. However, as the BBFC has tried to explain time and time again, these rating boards are in entirely different countries with different standards and issues they’re concerned about.

There are multiple cases where I believe the BBFC is being too strict, as well as some where I believe the MPAA is being too lenient. Here are some examples of films rated 15 by the BBFC and PG-13 by the MPAA, as well as my thoughts.


 

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Eat Pray Love

MPAA: Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language, some sexual references and male rear nudity.

BBFC: 15 for one use of strong language (uncut version)

Who got it right: The MPAA, though it’s dumb the distributor had to appeal to get the PG-13. One use of the word ‘motherf**ker’ was all that had to be removed to get the film a PG by the BBFC for its original theatrical release. I don’t understand the hang-up over this particular F-bomb at the 12A category, considering ‘f**ker’ and other creative variations are allowed at said category. The BBFC should’ve considered the fact that this was the only thing in the film that would bump it above PG and made an exception for 12A.

(Furthermore, Everyone Says I Love You got away with one use of ‘motherf**ker’ at a 12 all the way back in 1997.)

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The Fast and the Furious

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content and language.

BBFC: 15: “Contains some strong language and moderate action and violence.”

Who got it right: I honestly thought the MPAA at first, but as I did research/rewatched scenes for this article, I came to agree with the BBFC. The Fast and the Furious‘s violence seems a lot less restrained than its 12A sequels. There’s a lot of guns blazing, as well as a scene where a man has a nozzle shoved into his mouth and is forced to drink motor oil. The 15 is appropriate.

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Gunner Palace

MPAA: Rated PG-13 on appeal for strong language throughout, violent situations and some drug references.

BBFC: 15 for strong language

Who got it right: The BBFC. Gunner Palace contains 42 F-bombs, some of which are used sexually. It managed to get a PG-13 from the MPAA through some sort of patriotic sweet talk.

Do I believe that teenagers are necessarily harmed by strong language? No. But I believe in consistency. Some films shouldn’t have to fight for two F-bombs while Gunner Palace waltzes around with 42 because “America, f**k yeah!”.

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Nerve

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving dangerous and risky behavior, some sexual content, language, drug content, drinking and nudity-all involving teens.

BBFC: 15 for risky imitable behaviour

Who got it right: I’m going to call a draw on this one. I don’t think Nerve pushes the line of what’s acceptable in a PG-13, though its rating description is certainly a mouthful. On the other hand, imitable acts have always been a hot-button issue for the BBFC, and Nerve certainly wasn’t going to be an exception.

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The Shallows

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for bloody images, intense sequences of peril, and brief strong language.

BBFC: 15 for sustained threat, bloody injury detail

Who got it right: The MPAA. The Shallows is a relatively tame shark thriller with obvious appeal to a younger audience. In fact, I would argue the ‘sustained threat’ and ‘bloody injury detail’ are tamer than that of Jaws, which currently sits at the 12A category.

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Split

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content and behavior, violence and some language.

BBFC: 15 for sustained threat, abduction theme

Who got it right: The BBFC. Split manages to both play by and completely exploit the PG-13 rulebook. The visual detail is limited, but it implies or just barely keeps off-camera horrific things that younger audiences aren’t ready for, including cannibalism, graphic strangulation, and child sexual abuse.

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Suicide Squad

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language.

BBFC: 15 for sustained threat, moderate violence

Who got it right: The MPAA. Suicide Squad does have a bit of an edge to it compared to other superhero films, but it’s far too campy to seriously distress younger audiences. Furthermore, ‘sustained threat’ and ‘moderate violence’ aren’t uncommon insight to get see at the 12A category.

 

Analyzing the new BBFC guidelines

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Every four or five years, in order to keep in touch with public opinion, the BBFC does a public consultation over its guidelines. These public consultations have led to numerous adjustments over the years, some more significant than others. This time around, the majority of the guidelines were left completely intact, with a few minor changes in the upper categories and one big, newsworthy change.

This big change is probably the board’s approach to sexual violence. Under the old guidelines, depictions of sexual violence at the 12A/12 category were allowed, as long as they were “briefly and discreetly indicated, and its depiction must be justified by context.”

However, the new guidelines state that no actual depictions of sexual violence, no matter how discreet, are allowed at 12A. Sexual violence may still be implied, and sexual threat and abusive behavior are allowed as long as they are “brief and negatively presented.” This means that films such as Difret, The Duchess, Moulin Rouge!, The Kite Runner, and The World Unseen would no longer be accepted at the 12A/12 category.

At the 15 category, the language for the guidelines on sexual violence has been slightly changed, but basically says the same thing—while strong verbal references to sexual violence are acceptable, scenes of sexual violence must be discreet and lack detail. (We can only hope they actually follow this with the new guidelines and we don’t end up with another Red Sparrow.)

Some other changes:

  • The old guidelines at 15 read “There may be strong verbal references to sexual behaviour, but the strongest references are unlikely to be acceptable unless justified by context. Works whose primary purpose is sexual arousal or stimulation are unlikely to be acceptable.” The new guidelines clarify that use of ‘pornographic language’ is unlikely to be acceptable, and now simply says that works with a primary purpose of arousal are “unacceptable” at this category. The biggest places these rules will likely hit are raunchy comedies and ecchi anime.
  • Similarly, sexual nudity with strong detail at the 15 category has been changed from “unlikely to be acceptable” to acceptable if “brief or presented in a comic context.” The public consultation included research on the public’s response to brief displays of erect penises in Girls and Big Little Lies—the public accepted the former due to its comedy and briefness, while it was often completely missed in the latter. (I know a very specific group of basement-dwellers on Twitter who are not going to be happy about this.)
  • For some reason, the examples of dangerous behavior that shouldn’t dwell on detail at 15 were changed from “hanging, suicide, and self-harming” to “suicide, self-harming and asphyxiation.” Is hanging BBFC-approved now? Someone resubmit Paranoia Agent!

And just for fun, here are the films that the BBFC saw a significant disagreement with in terms of their classification during their consultation:

  • Wind River was considered more appropriate for an 18 by the public due to its depiction of a gang rape, rape theme, and strong images of self-harm.
  • Into the Forest‘s rape scene was considered more appropriate for an 18 by the public. The BBFC justified the 15 in their insight in their long insight due to the scene’s lack of nudity and instead “focusing on her horrified and pained reactions“; however, the public seemed to think that the focus on the woman’s reactions made the scene stronger in impact and more “real.”
  • The strong violence in Riot Club was felt to be more suitable at 18 by the public, largely because of a sense of power imbalance and violence against defenseless persons.
  • Logan was split—some felt that the fantasy elements/superhero genre made the violence easily separated from reality and suitable at 15, while others felt the violence was more appropriate for 18 due to the fact that some of the most violent acts were performed by a young girl. Personally, I’m apart of the former who finds the violence justified and suitable on the upper end of 15.
  • The BBFC stated that it was “widely felt” that 12 Cloverfield Lane was more suitable for a 15 then the 12A/12 classification, which is something BBFC nerds have been saying since it came out. The film had a sense of strong threat, including sexual threat, throughout that the public felt that, despite the lack of on-screen violence, was more suitable at 15.
  • Some objected to It Follows at a 15 due to the combination of sex and gore, as well as the implication of a mother raping her son. In the words of one mother: “That is horrendous and should be banned. It’s almost like the mother is raping her son.” (Umm…that’s because that’s what was happening.)
  • The graphic medical details and photographs in Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids were felt to be too strong for a 12. (Some may argue transphobia could play a role in the feeling of it being inappropriate for 12, but I think the public is squeamish about graphic medical stuff no matter who’s involved.)
  • “No clear consensus” was made for My Life as a Courgette (known in the United States as My Life as a Zucchini), a film that fellow BBFC nerds also commented on being challenging for PG. Some felt the fact that the film’s animation reduced any serious impact it could have, and the sex references would fly over a child’s head. Others felt that the mature themes and borderline moderate sex references, including a reference to ‘willies exploding’, were more appropriate for a 12A/12 rating. (In the United States, the film received a PG-13 rating for these elements.)
  • The public felt that the abduction theme and strong threat in Split were more appropriate for an 18 classification. I’m going to personally disagree with this one—it was definitely strong for the PG-13 rating it got in America, but I don’t think it exceeded the guidelines at 15. There were disturbing elements, but nothing that met the 18 criteria for “sustained focus on sadistic or sexual threat.”
  • The mature themes in Lion were felt by the public as more suitable for a 12A/12 rather than a PG, something that yet again fellow BBFC nerds commented on after it came out. @emmabung is able to detail the kind of content that was challenging/unsuitable for PG in this film much better then I can.
  • Sausage Party was felt to be challenging to classify, largely due to its 15-rated sense of humor that had a few 18-rated bits. The public also felt that some of the sexual content, including the orgy scene, required a better insight than “strong sex references.”
  • The strong sex references in Bad Moms were felt by the public to be ‘uncomfortable’ at 15 and possibly providing new information for younger teenagers. (If I had to make an educated guess, it was likely the graphic discussion over pleasing a man and comparing his genitals to a “man clit.”) As such, some of these references would likely be considered 18-rated “pornographic language” under the new guidelines.

Before we go, I’ve gotta mention that new logo design/slogan. Snazzy!

Fitness Boxing’s ratings highlight an American (and Japanese?) hang-up over women’s bodies

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Fitness Boxing is a 2018 (2019 in North America) game for the Nintendo Switch about…well, fitness and boxing. In particular, what the game describes as “boxing-based rhythmic exercises.”

Some have hoped that this game would be the Nintendo Switch’s ‘killer app’, much like how games such as Wii Sports and Wii Fit helped sell Wiis to families–even families that weren’t big on gaming–worldwide.

However, a certain factor unique to Fitness Boxing compared to those two other games may impact its success: the game carries a T rating from the ESRB, with advisories of “Mild Violence, Suggestive Themes”.

According to the ESRB’s summary, this is what constitutes for the “suggestive themes” in the game: All of the female characters have breast physics incorporated into their movements; their breasts frequently jiggle/bounce in a noticeable manner during stretching and boxing routines.”

The warning of ‘suggestive’ material, combined with the anime art style, may leave some consumers thinking that the game fits into anime stereotypes (ecchi content, suggestive content of underage girls, etc.) and cause them to avoid purchasing the game.

However, if the content is truly suggestive, why is no other (non-Japanese) rating boards concerned about it?

Here are the international classifications for Fitness Boxing:

Australia: G

Germany: 0

PEGI: 7 (“non-realistic violence in a child-friendly setting or context and non-realistic looking violence towards characters which although human are not very detailed”)

Singapore: G

South Korea: All

Taiwan: 0+


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After viewing a considerable amount of footage for the game, I have yet to see anything truly “suggestive” enough that I think it requires a T rating. Women are portrayed with breasts, and sometimes they move in their clothing during the exercises, but it’s not presented with the intention to titillate, nor is ever even slightly drawn attention to over the overall exercise. It was hard for me to notice much “jiggling” as someone sitting watching game footage looking for it, let alone someone who’s actually playing the game.

There are a number of E10+ games with factors such as “large amounts of cleavage” and “gyrating” that make Fitness Boxing sound tame by comparison.  (In fact, there are rating descriptions for E10+ games that mention breast-jiggling.)

As such, I think an E10+ rating for “Mild Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes” would be more then appropriate for Fitness Boxing, if not a bit on the strict side.

If I were Nintendo, I would have personally tried to appeal the decision in some way to the ESRB because of the potential impact on sales that I mentioned earlier.

Interestingly, the only other country that flagged the game for sexual content was its home country of Japan, where it received a CERO B (12+) for it. However, this isn’t an equivalent decision–games in the CERO B rating have ranged from E10+ to M by the ESRB.

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10 times the New Zealand OFLC disagreed with Australia’s classification board

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On the surface, Australia and New Zealand’s Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC) may seem to be very similar. They formerly shared the same name, before the OFLC was dissolved in Australia. (They now go by the Australian Classification Board, or ACB.)

They share the same unrestricted classifications, and New Zealand even allows Australia’s classifications to be used on titles at the unrestricted categories as long as they haven’t received a restrictive rating such as 15 or 18 from the BBFC. (There’s a separate organization, the Film and Video Labeling Body, or FVLB, which handles cross-rating and unrestricted titles. It’s a bit complicated to explain in great detail in a blog post where it isn’t the main subject.)

However, despite their closeness, the two boards can disagree with one another, and have their own unique issues that one is more concerned about then the other. To put it simply, they’re brothers, not identical twins. Here are ten noteworthy decisions in which Australia and New Zealand have been split when it comes to classification.


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13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why is perhaps the most controversial title Netflix has ever put out. Based on a young adult novel, the series was immediately attacked for seemingly glamorizing suicide to a younger audience, as well as increasing the graphicness of some scenes in the book. (The main girl, Hannah, takes pills to kill herself in the novel, while in the Netflix series we get a long, drawn-out scene of her slitting her wrists in the bathtub.)

The Australian Classification Board has provided Netflix with a self-rating tool that allows them to generate Australian ratings based on a questionnaire. As such, the original classification of season 1 of the series was MA15+ for “Strong Sex Scenes, Strong Violence”. (For some reason, the auto-rating tool spits out classifications with Capitalization Like This.)

In their audit of the auto-rating tool, the Australian Classification Board changed the consumer advice to read “Strong suicide themes and sexual violence”, which is a much more appropriate representation of the content contained in the series. However, some have expressed concern over the series carrying an MA15+ rating, which still allows for a teenage audience to view it without supervision.

New Zealand’s OFLC, viewing both the positives and negatives of the show’s content, decided to create an entirely new classification for it – RP18, meaning viewers under 18 need to be accompanied by a parent or guardian. They also provided an incredibly detailed advice note for the series: “Series deals with suicide, bullying and depression. Episodes may contain violence, sexual material, drug use, and frequent offensive language. Some episodes contain graphic depictions of suicide and rape.”

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A Christmas Carol (2009)

This Disney animated adaptation of the classic story was initially released in New Zealand with a cross-rating from Australia of PG with advice reading “some scenes may scare very young children.”

The OFLC received several parental complaints, including one from a member of the public who submitted it to the Chief Censor (members of the public are allowed to pay a small fee and submit works for classification). The OFLC determined that it was “likely to shock and frighten younger viewers but […] unlikely to have long-term negative effects”, and awarded it an M rating for “Content that may disturb.”

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Azumanga Daioh

Over in Australia, the classification of the first volume of the gentle slice-of-life anime series Azumanga Daioh caused a bit of a stir among Australian anime fans. It received an MA15+ rating for “Adult theme” – the distributor, as well as those who had already seen the series, were expecting no more than a PG. Australia’s classification board took objection to a recurring character, Mr. Kimura, who inappropriately expresses his fondness for high school girls.

When the series was rated in New Zealand, this same volume received an M for “Sexual themes” – keeping the series unrestricted but also advising parents of sexual subject matter – in this case, the light-hearted treatment of ephebophilia (perhaps hebephilia, considering Chiyo-chan) – that may be unsuitable for younger viewers. This also puts New Zealand’s classification more in line with the 12 rating that the series received by the BBFC.

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Don’t Breathe

Don’t Breathe is an American horror/thriller film about a group of friends who get trapped inside the house of a blind man they’re robbing. The film contains numerous scenes of strong violence and an intense atmosphere throughout, leading to the MA15+ rating in Australia for “Strong themes, violence and coarse language”.

In New Zealand, however, the OFLC was considerably more concerned about the portrayals of attempted sexual violence in the film. Much like the BBFC, the OFLC has found an increase in concern from the New Zealand public on sexual violence in recent years, and have adjusted their classification focuses accordingly. As such, the film received an R18 rating for “Violence, sexual violence & offensive language.”

Sony Pictures submitted an appeal, hoping for a more typical R16 rating for horror films that have been rated R in the United States. However, the R18 rating was upheld on appeal, as the OFLC described the sexual violence as “cruel”, “gratuitous”, and “shocking.” (That may sound like they were trashing the film, but they described in the same document as a “taut, suspenseful, and well-made horror/thriller.”)

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Goldeneye 007

Goldeneye 007 is a first-person shooter game based on the James Bond game GoldenEye. Initially released in 1997 for the Nintendo 64, it was remade for the Nintendo Wii and DS in 2010 (it was later again “remastered” for other consoles). The Nintendo Wii version of the remake is the version we’re going to be discussing here.

Over in Australia, the Wii version of the remake received an M rating for “Violence, sexual references and coarse language”. However, because the game received a 16 rating from PEGI, it was submitted to the New Zealand OFLC, where it received an R16 rating for “Violence”.

I actually emailed the OFLC about this decision a few years ago. I had played this remake of Goldeneye a lot with my family when I was younger, including with my younger sister, whose age would have been in the single digits at the time. Sure, there was violence, but it was all very quick and never graphic. You got shot by someone else and then got frustrated you were shot, not scared or surprised by the visuals. There was even a paintball mode for a completely non-lethal experience!

In response, the OFLC sent me their whole “summary of reasons for decision” for Goldeneye 007, in which they stated “Constant exposure to the game’s killings of animated human beings, in which the player is an active participant, has potential in younger players to lead to a desensitization in general towards violent behavior in real life.”

This is in line with their restricted classifications of other shooters such as Halo (which was also rated M in Australia), but seems a bit too strict for me. I dunno, my sister and I turned out…okay.

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High School DxD

We’ve discussed High School DxD on here before. It’s an anime action series with a bit of raunch to it. Okay, a lot of raunch to it. And considering the main cast consisted of teenagers, anime fans in different parts of the world have feared cuts to their release of the series.

However, the series has actually survived largely unscathed in most countries. The series has received MA15+ and 15 ratings in Australia and the UK, 16 in Germany, etc. Most countries didn’t take notable objection to the portrayal of high school students in High School DxD, likely because most of the girls are over the age of 16, it’s animated, and no actual sexual acts are graphically portrayed.

Most countries. In New Zealand, the first season was classified as objectionable, with the OFLC basing their decision on the possibility that the series would “encourage and legitimize the pursuit of young persons as viable adult sexual partners.” The Australian distributor, Madman Entertainment, has never bothered to submit the other seasons to the OFLC, but they’d likely receive the same decision.

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Megan is Missing

Megan is Missing is a low-budget “psychological horror” film that showcases the dangers of the Internet in the most extreme worst-case scenario. Two young teenage girls begin talking to a boy online, and (spoiler alert!) both of them end up kidnapped and dead.

The film contains some extreme visuals meant to disturb, such as the underwear-clad and impaled corpse of one of the girls and an extended rape scene involving the other.

While the film is available on DVD in the United States and Canada, it has not been rated by the MPAA, and none of the Canadian provinces have rated it. This makes Australia and New Zealand the only territories that have officially rated the film.

In Australia, it received an MA15+ rating for “Strong themes, violence, sexual violence, and sexual references”. According to the Australian Classification Board’s 2011 annual report, the film received three complaints – two of them thought the film should have had an R18+ rating, while the other thought the consumer advice needed to be more detailed/clear on the impact of the film.

Over in New Zealand, the film was classified as objectionable. Explaining their reasoning, the OFLC stated the film was “strongly prurient” and sexualized the lives of its two main characters to a “highly exploitative degree.”

If I had to guess, the two scenes that most contributed to them banning the film are the rape scene (which they do mention in their document about the film) and the scene in which Megan describes in great detail performing oral sex on a camp counselor when she was ten years old. These scenes are more fitting of an exploitation film rather than one trying to make teenagers aware of Internet safety. As such, I understand the OFLC classifying it as objectionable.

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Naughty Bear

We discussed Naughty Bear previously while talking about PEGI, but they weren’t the only rating board to turn a blind eye to teddy bear torture. The Australian Classification Board rated Naughty Bear as M for “Mature themes and violence”. Considering the strong revenge theme/revenge-motivated violence as “thrill kills”, this seems quite lenient, especially considering Australia’s classification board refused to classify Postal 2 in which the sadism is optional and presented in a neutral fashion by the game.

Over in New Zealand, the game was initially cross-rated as M but was submitted by the Inspectors of Publications for official review/classification. After viewing the game for themselves, the OFLC decided to classify it as R13 for “Violence”, recognizing the sadism but also the low impact of the visuals themselves.

“Children will be especially disturbed by the depiction of a familiar childhood toy engaged in frequent acts of violence against other toys. However, teenagers and adults possess the maturity to recognize the game’s contrived representations of violence and the satirical nature of the game.”

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Pornography in general

The rules on pornography in Australia are quite strict. At the R18+ rating, sexual activity may only be ‘realistically simulated’ (though much like the BBFC’s policy, some artsy real sex has appeared at the R18+ category). As such, only softcore pornography is commonly available. (One distributor, Siren Visual, found a loophole in the ‘realistically simulated’ rule and released some hentai. While uncensored penetration and the like managed to make it through, they often had to be heavily pre-cut for factors and themes such as blood, urine, underage-looking characters, etc.)

Australia has an X18+ rating especially for “adult sex films” – however, these films are banned from sale in every part of Australia except for the Australian Capital and Northern Territory. Also, the guidelines prohibit any fetish material, ‘exploitative’ language, or any depiction of violence, even if completely disassociated from sex. (For example, one fantasy-based porno was refused classification for a scene in which a man is simply implied to hit a guard over the head in order to free a woman from a prison cell.)

New Zealand’s OFLC is much more open to pornography by comparison. Pornographic titles, including ‘hardcore’ and fetish titles, are normally assigned an R18 rating with display restrictions, meaning they must be sold in specific adult sections of shops away from children.

The only concerns the OFLC has when it comes to pornography are those that they’re concerned about with all films – sexual exploitation of young people, exploitative portrayals of sexual violence, etc. (Back to the hentai from earlier – some of the ones that passed R18+ from the Australian Classification Board, such as Cool Devices and RXXX: Prescription for Pain, were classified objectionable in New Zealand for depictions of incest and “promotion of sexual violence as an acceptable and arousing activity.”)’

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Sharknado

The Sharknado franchise is famous for its ridiculous, over-the-top scenario – the world suddenly being hit by shark tornadoes. As such, the violence/gore, while occasionally grisly, is clearly fantastical and comic in nature.

Over in Australia, every one of the films was rated MA15+ for “Strong violence”. By comparison, New Zealand’s OFLC rated the first, fifth, and sixth films as M and 2-4 as R13. They published a “snapshot” of the final film’s M rating, suggesting that they view the violence in context much more lightly than the Australian Classification Board.

“There are occasional scenes of violence and some images that may frighten very young children (such as exaggerated and unrealistic loss of limbs), but the artificial nature of its presentation substantially reduces the overall impact.”

Is it time for the BBFC to introduce the 15A and 16 ratings for cinema?

 

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While the United Kingdom’s BBFC and Ireland’s IFCO have plenty of similarities, one of their biggest differences (besides sometimes having different ratings for films) is IFCO’s use of the 15A and 16 categories for cinema.

From 2001 to 2005, these IFCO categories were 12PG and 15PG—essentially the same as the BBFC’s 12 and 15, but allowing minors to be accompanied at the cinema. However, in 2006, these certificates were replaced with 15A and 16. The film censor/advisor of IFCO at the time explained:

“A number of recent films were given an 18 rating, whereas a 16 rating would have been absolutely adequate had such a rating been in force at the time,” he said. “However, none of those films would have qualified for the 15PG rating, so they had to be given the 18 rating.” 

Basically, IFCO realized that there were films that were suitable for older teenagers but that parents shouldn’t be able to use as babysitters. IFCO’s most complained about decisions at the end of the year were usually a result of parents taking their children to ’15PG’ films and then complaining about their strong content, such as Bad Santa and The Passion of the Christ.

The 15A and 16 categories have allowed for parents to use their own discretion when it comes to films that have just a bit of strong content and protected underage cinemagoers from being accompanied to stronger films that they really weren’t ready for, accompanied by an adult or not.

Ever since IFCO introduced the 15A rating, people in the UK have been requesting/asking if the BBFC has considered doing something similar, to the point where it’s included in their FAQ. The BBFC defended not having a 15A rating by suggesting that public feedback indicates that parents think that the content in many 15-rated films is unsuitable for anyone under the age of 15, accompanied by an adult or not.

However, based on some recent decisions made by the BBFC in the last few months, parents’ views might be changing.

First, there was the classification of A Northern Soul as 15 for “strong language”, which the director and many members of the public protested as restricting an inspirational film about community from an audience that could benefit from it due to “everyday language.” 13 local authorities went against the BBFC decision and decided to classify the film as 12A.

Second, there was the classification of Venom as 15 for “strong threat, horror, violence”, which some parents of (and actual) preteens and young teenagers protested as being too strict for a “superhero film.” While the violence was definitely above the 12A guidelines, these parents felt like they should be the ones to decide if their children could handle it or not.

Third, there was the classification of Once Upon a Deadpool as 15 for “strong violence, crude humour”. Out of all the decisions listed here, this is the one which has gotten the most public response, mainly from parents upset about how the film was advertised as a “PG-13 Deadpool.” Expecting a 12A rating in the UK, many told their younger children they could go see the film for Christmas and even preordered tickets, only to be baffled by the re-edited version receiving the same rating as the original Deadpool 2.

Most recently, My Hero Academia: Two Heroes received a 15 for “strong violence, bloody images”. This decision received from upset from parents and younger fans of My Hero Academia. While season 1 of the series is rated 15 in the UK, the film’s violence is a bit tamer than the strongest episode of the series and was enough of a borderline that IFCO gave it a 12A rating.

Considering all of these recent controversial decisions (and the fact that many of those complaining had a request for a 15A rating with their complaint), I think it’s time for the BBFC to consider adopting IFCO’s 15A and 16 ratings.

The benefits:

  • Cuts for a 12A would become a less frequent occurrence.
  • Parents would be given the right to accompany their children to films with potential strong content that they feel is suitable for them, which is better then the alternative (either parents or the child themselves purchasing, renting, or pirating the 15-rated film once it’s out of theaters, likely viewing it without adult accompaniment). The BBFC have acknowledged that not every child is the same with the 12A rating, so I don’t see why circumstances wouldn’t be the same for films sitting on the lower end of 15.
  • A 16 rating would indicate stronger content and stop parents from taking their children to films that sit on the borderline between 15 and 18 and really contain the content that the BBFC has seen parents worry about in their studies. As the 15 rating currently stands, it can be hard for a parent to understand why My Hero Academia: Two Heroes and Red Sparrow share the same classification.

One thing that IFCO has to deal with is the classification of some films as 16 for theatrical release and 18 on home video, which is bound to upset some older teenagers. However, the BBFC can justify this much like they used to justify passing some films higher on home video (for example, Midnight Run was 15 in theaters and 18 on home video)—the impact can be significantly changed for something being viewed in the home, where the viewer is free to rewatch and replay things such as particularly violent or imitable acts as much as they want.

Overall, the way things currently stand, I believe the BBFC needs to consider how the public has responded to these decisions over the past few months and adjust their new guidelines next year accordingly. Rather this is allowing more violence and threat in some contexts at 12A or even a test run of 15A/16 certificates, something needs to be changed for the benefit of the public.

Universally surprising: 10 U-rated films by the BBFC that contain objectionable content

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Every rating board has something in common. This is the presence of a rating which indicates that something is suitable for all ages. For the BBFC, this is the U rating. The U stands for ‘Universal’, though it doesn’t quite mean everyone–according to the BBFC, it is intended for viewers “aged four years and over.” (The BBFC likely clarifies this so they don’t have to worry about catering to one-year-olds who can’t follow storylines and are scared by the word ‘boo’.)

Over the years, as the BBFC has responded to the public and made adjustments to their guidelines, the standards of what’s allowed at a U rating have changed. For example, the guidelines at U used to clearly permit ‘mild violence’ and ‘occasional mild threat or menace’. The current guidelines state that violence should be ‘very mild’ and that mild violence will only be allowed if justified by context.

The last BBFC consultation of the public about their guidelines showed that the public wanted them to be stricter on language at U and less strict about the use of very strong language at 15. The BBFC adjusted their guidelines accordinglySausage Party got a 15 when it would’ve been an 18 in the past, while children’s works either have received a PG or been cut for a U for the use of the words ‘crap’ and ‘bloody’, which were previously allowed at U.

However, because of how these guidelines have changed over the years, there are works which currently sit at a U rating – rather because they haven’t been resubmitted or their classification being kept for “historical” reasons – that many parents would consider to exceed that classification. Most of the examples I have listed here are unlikely to actually cause any sort of harm to a young child, and would simply be more appropriate at the PG classification. (Well, maybe not the last one. You might be able to guess what it is…)


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2001: A Space Odyssey

Stanley Kubrick’s classic sci-fi film isn’t exactly known for being gentle. While any sort of visual detail of violence is mild and infrequent, a U rating really doesn’t feel right for some of the events and disturbing implications that occur in this film.

(minor spoiler ahead)

The threat/menace level in the film is clearly elevated past the guidelines of a U once the human-like A.I. kills multiple people to protect itself.

However, in 2018, the BBFC rated both a trailer and a commentary version of the film as PG. Trailers can sometimes be rated higher than films, and there is a possibility there was some mild bad language or innuendo in the commentary that bumped it up. But this could also be a sign that the main film would be classified as PG today if resubmitted.

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A Hard Day’s Night

The BBFC have definitely justified their passing of this Beatles musical comedy as U. A minor cut was made to remove the phrase ‘Get knotted’ before the final passing of the film. In the midst of Beatlemania, it just seemed right that a film involving them would be a major event for cinemagoers of all ages.

However, with modern-day BBFC guidelines, the sex references seem a little strong for a U. Referring to a man’s grandfather as being “in the middle of an orgy” and to another man as “sex-obsessed”, as well as a reference to “fast women”, seem more fitting at the PG category today. (And even then, if it were a film that drew a lot of families with young children, I could see some complaints over the ‘orgy’ line.)

Many might not even know the film is rated U – modern-day DVD releases carry PG and 12 ratings on account of bonus features.

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

Gonna get this out of the way now…not a big fan of E.T. His face being on my blog gives me the creeps. Stone me if you want.

This may be a family classic that children of all ages have seen and enjoyed, but it does have some content issues that have surprised parents showing the film to their young ones, especially if they were misled by the U rating.

The main issue is the language – the words ‘shit’, ‘douchebag’, ‘son of a bitch’, and (famously) ‘penis breath’ appear. The BBFC’s short insight misleading reads ‘very mild language and threat’. Those are not ‘very mild’ words.

While the BBFC may be keeping their original decision for historical purposes (or maybe they just don’t like to admit they were wrong), Australia’s OFLC rerated the film upon its 20th-anniversary edition from G to PG. This caused some controversy, but the board defended themselves as updating the classification for modern guidelines. I think the BBFC should do the same.

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Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)

This drama, based on a British novel from 1874, has a scene described in its insight that really doesn’t sound U-rated:

“A character is shot in the chest and dies. Blood can be seen on the character’s chest and another character is emotional as she rubs the wound and spreads the blood around.”

The initial version of the film also contained a real cockfight before the BBFC cracked down on animal cruelty in films.

There’s another odd classification issue with another version of the film. The 1998 adaptation was rated 12, yet carries a short insight for “very mild violence, nudity, and language.”  

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His & Hers

Thanks to @emmabung on Twitter for finding this one almost three years ago (man, time flies). If you’re a regular around here, you know her. If not, check out her blog, where she also talks about the BBFC and posts reviews, pictures of her day-to-day life, etc.

His & Hers is a documentary which carries a short insight for ‘very mild bad language’, which the long insight explains includes “‘God’ and infrequent use of ‘feck’.”

‘Feck’? Very mild language? I consider U-rated swearing as things you can say around your parents. My mom is actually pretty cool with swearing, but I don’t drop F-bombs around her, and ‘feck’ is too close for comfort for me.

As the BBFC explained to Emma, they, for whatever reason, decided that a woman calling her husband a ‘cheeky feck’ had a certain ‘aww’ factor to it that made it not an alternative to strong language. Never mind that it’s still clearly a substitute for her calling him a “cheeky f**k.”

A single use of the word was considered 12-level ‘infrequent implied strong language’ for the drama film On Broadway.  Use of the word was also seen as ‘moderate bad language’ for the romantic comedy The Yank.

If you ask me, these inconsistencies are fecking ridiculous.

*crickets chirp*

Thank you, I’ll be here all week.

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The Incredibles

This Pixar animated superhero film is often referred to by those in the United States as one of the few animated films to actually earn its PG rating. The film opens on a suicide attempt (though it’s vague enough young kids will probably miss it) and has plenty of intense action scenes. One of the most memorable scenes is the mother telling her children, “Remember those bad guys on those shows you used to watch on Saturday mornings? Well, these guys are not like those guys. They won’t exercise restraint because you’re children. They will kill you if you get the chance.” (It’s particularly powerful because bad guys who will kill kids are somewhere even a lot of adult-targeted films fear to tread.)

With all of this in the mind, it’s surprising that the BBFC gave the film a U rating. The second film received a PG for “mild bad language, violence” under new guidelines, and considering how similar the violence is to the first film, it is likely the first film would receive a PG if submitted today.

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Mid-August Lunch

Mid-August Lunch is an Italian comedy film that has been described as “a film of gentle wit” and “entirely irresistible.” It is perhaps because of the film’s charm that the BBFC felt that a single use of ‘son of a bitch’ could be contained at the U category. They also noted that the use is “not directed at anyone and is not used in an aggressive matter.”

However, under current BBFC guidelines, it is unlikely the film would be passed the same today, even though it was classified last just eight years ago. Considering Ratatouille now carries a PG for a single use of ‘bloody’, it is very unlikely that ‘son of a bitch’ would manage to slip through at a U, no matter how charmed the examiner was by the film.

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The Road to El Dorado

The Road to El Dorado is an animated adventure-comedy with an interesting production history. Earlier on in the film’s production, it was planned to be the most mature film they’d made yet with a PG-13 rating. The studio had a change of heart, perhaps out of lack of confidence for a PG-13 animated film – as such, the “steamier love sequences” and “scantly clothing” were removed/redesigned for a PG rating in the US.

This doesn’t mean that The Road to El Dorado doesn’t still have an edge to it. Two characters clearly become not only romantically, but physically involved. It begins with a sensual massage, and when we see them again, they’re, uh, like this…

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“They were kissing”, some naive children and desperate adults who don’t want their childhood innocence ruined may claim. She’s nowhere near his mouth!

Despite this and a few other off-color jokes, the film’s insight doesn’t even carry a note about ‘innuendo’.

It’s also worth noting that the last time the film was classified, one use of the word ‘crappy’ was considered very mild bad language. Under current guidelines, any use of ‘crap’/’crappy’ is considered mild bad language and would push it to a PG.

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Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace is one film of many in the Star Wars franchise. The franchise may be known for being family-friendly, but it doesn’t shy away from violence. While it’s quite stylized, the film contains depictions of stabbing, decapitations, characters being split in half, and other unsavory violence.

A U rating for all of this violence, even if it isn’t realistic, seems entirely unfair in a world where Frozen carries a PG rating for ‘mild threat’.

However, the original DVD release in the UK does carry a PG based on the bonus feature of ‘deleted scenes’ which earned a higher rating from the BBFC.

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Watership Down

You can’t talk about films that shouldn’t be rated U without talking about this one.

This animated adventure-drama, based on the novel of the same name, brings enough carnage and bloodshed along with its cartoon rabbits to give small children nightmares for months on end. At least one person complains about it to the BBFC every year, misled as a parent by the DVD cover art with its cute animals and bright U rating, or simply remembering the film and thinking “Wait, that’s a U?”.

The BBFC’s case study revealed that the examiners in 1978 thought that the film’s overall messages and the fact that it was animated meant that it was unlikely to “seriously trouble” children, and as such, despite the violence, it received a U.

The current chief executive of the BBFC, David Austin, stated in an interview with BBC Radio that if the film were resubmitted at that time (just three years after its last classification), it would receive a PG. That might still be a little lenient – Ireland’s IFCO gave it a 12 at one point for DVD, though more recent DVD releases have gone back to their G rating for unknown reasons.

On a more minor note, there’s also the clear shouting of the phrase ‘piss off’ at one point in the film, which definitely exceeds the current guidelines for bad language at the U category.