Jotting down thoughts on the 2018 BBFC Annual Report as I read it

Another year of sometimes questionable decisions, emails, nerdy Twitter rants, and a few positive changes. The report has managed to come out over a month early this year; as such, I get the chance to ramble about it before me from last year did. (Link to follow along here.)


  1. Of course, Red Sparrow was the most complained about decision of the year, with a whopping 64 complaints. The BBFC still defends their decision to pass the minorly cut version at 15, claiming the scenes of sexual violence lacked “strong nudity and eroticisation.” Despite this claim, one of the attacks (even in the cut version) has a penis briefly dangling on-screen.
  2. The second most complained about decision was Peter Rabbit, sitting at 50 complaints. Most of them were complaining about the weaponization of an allergic reaction, something that children could potentially emulate without realizing the seriousness of it. The element of attempted murder definitely seemed out of place in a children’s movie, but I fear that we sometimes don’t give kids enough credit. After all, there’s a SpongeBob episode in which SpongeBob and Mr. Krabs create a repulsive Krabby Patty that they believe has killed the health inspector. Making an ultra-nasty sandwich and getting someone to eat it could be just as fatal as triggering an allergic reaction (for example, a kid thinking “Hey, you know what’s really nasty to put on here? Bleach!”), but I’ve never seen any complaints about the episode.
  3. Much ado about nothing when it comes to A Northern Soul. 20 F-bombs aren’t 12A material, nor will they be for a long time. (However, the film would be perfect for a 15A category.)
  4. A disappointing 18 complaints for a PG-rated trailer for Love, Simon, in which the most objectionable factor was apparently the main character being gay. Unfortunately, I was well aware of the complaints beforehand because of buffoons complaining to the cinema on Twitter.
  5.  Mary and the Witch’s Flower gets a mention in the U category. Despite the fact that the BBFC were in the minority with their decision (with even IFCO passing it as PG), I completely agree with it. The very mild fantasy threat is no different from Ghibli films that have been passed as U.
  6. I always find it interesting that the BBFC considers ‘crap’ as mild bad language—stronger than ‘damn’ and ‘hell’—because it’s the exact opposite in America. (This word had to be cut from Smallfoot for a U, and was also partially responsible for the second season of The Boss Baby: Back in Business getting a PG.)
  7. A dog with a racial slur for a name was enough to get The Dam Busters bumped from a historic U to a PG, which I think is reasonable.
  8. Both Deadpool 2 and Once Upon a Deadpool were a 15—a controversial decision, but probably an appropriate one. It’d take some sort of miracle to make a 12A-friendly cut of Deadpool 2. (Again, I do think Once Upon a Deadpool would be very appropriate for a 15A category.)
  9. How do you get ten C-words in a 15? Be Buzzfeed. (The Netflix original Follow This, revolving around Buzzfeed reporters, was allowed this amount in a documentary context with potential ‘appeal and educational value to an older teenage audience.’ Educational value? What, learning how to be a clickbaiting cu-THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN RATED 18)
  10. I’m very grateful the distributor took the uncut 18 for the new Halloween. I fear the 18 rating is dying off, and cuts for a 15 can be very obnoxious.
  11. I’m less grateful that the home video distributor for the original Halloween was too cheap/lazy to get it reclassified for home video, therefore making it a cinema 15 and a home video 18.
  12. Rather than letting the distributor attempt to hack up Assassination Nation for a 15, the BBFC straight told them “There’s too much here, keep it at 18.” See, Twitter complainers? Sometimes the BBFC are the reasonable ones!
  13. You can officially give golden showers in an R18! As long as you aren’t abusive about it. (That’s good advice for any sexual encounter or kink…unless you’re into that, of course. One of the biggest complaints about the BBFC in the past year came from the new planned Internet restrictions and how harsh they are on rougher BDSM.)
  14. Almost all of the BBFC’s ratings of linear content for games did not match up with the PEGI rating the game got (with the exception of Yakuza Kiwami: 2, which got an 18 by both). It’s interesting that the Punch Line footage managed a 12, considering it’s all from the anime series, in which every episode was rated as 15 for “sexualised images”. The BBFC was also far more detailed in describing the linear content/cutscenes that they rated then PEGI ever is with the actual games.
  15. The BBFC when the Advisory Panel acknowledged 14-year-olds had likely seen A Quiet Place despite its 15 rating:

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For an actual British perspective on the report, check out our basically-affiliate at this point Emma, Look!.

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Rilakkuma and Kaoru is rated 12 by the BBFC because they think preteens are infants

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Ballsy title, ain’t it? I’m fired up today…

WARNING: This article contains images of scary faces that, according to the BBFC, are not suitable for readers under 12.

I’ve been looking forward to Netflix’s Rilakkuma and Kaoru for a while. From the trailers, it appeared to be maintaining a balance between gentle/fun adventures for young children and dealing with the main character’s struggling to understand herself for adult viewers. (Netflix marks it as “Family Watch Together TV”, which I think is very appropriate.)

While doing my daily search of recent BBFC classifications, I was a bit caught off-guard when Rilakkuma and Kaoru entered the database. Every episode had been given a U rating, the majority with “no material likely to offend or harm”…except for episode 5, which had been given a 12 for “brief moderate horror.”

My first instinct was ‘they’re overreacting to something’, but I decided not to make any swift accusations without the show even being out yet. Perhaps I had misjudged the show, and this ‘moderate horror’ was an attempt to avoid an all-ages rating.

Now that the show is out and I’ve seen it, I can now confidently say that the 12 rating for this episode is absolute nonsense. Here’s why.


For reference, here’s the clip that got the episode a 12 rating.

As we can see, Kaoru, her two bears, and a bird are watching a scary movie. They’re all visibly scared by the contents of the screen, holding onto Kaoru for safety. This is what we do see of the movie:

  • A woman is standing in the bathroom washing her hands when what appears to be blood appears on the mirror.
  • She looks behind her, and the lights begin flickering.
  • Turning back around, she sees that the blood on the mirror has now formed the words “I WON’T FORGIVE YOU”, causing her to let out a yelp of horror.
  • She says aloud, “Yuriko? Yuriko?”
  • She runs up the stairs, being stopped by the scary figure who says “I won’t forgive you.” She screams and falls backward.
  • The girl’s boyfriend appears, seeing her at the bottom of the stairs. She tells him what happened, and he assures her that he’ll protect her.

This is the “scary figure” in question, who we also briefly glimpse on a DVD cover:

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For starters, the impact of the scene is clearly reduced by the fact that the characters are watching a movie and the scene repeatedly cutting back to their reactions. Never are the characters in any real danger, nor does the show attempt to exploit the horror film on-screen by throwing in a jump scare or anything like that.

The main issue the BBFC likely had with the scene was Yuriko’s “scary face”. However, the U and PG ratings have been no stranger to faces that are likely to unnerve, if not terrify a young child:

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The Nutcracker in 3D (2010) – PG. “Contains mild violence, threat and some scary scenes.”
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Coraline (2009) – PG. “Contains mild threat and scary scenes and one use of mild language.”
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The Secret of NIMH (1982, last classified in 2014) – U. “Contains mild fantasy violence and threat.”

Furthermore, the episode continues on to have the power go out, causing the group to notice a spirit that’s appeared in their house. They’re initially scared of her, largely because of the movie they’ve just watched, but eventually discover she has no intentions of harming them – she’s just lonely. As such, they befriend her before she disappears again when the lights come back on.

A scene like this could easily help young children contextualize and be less afraid of scary films, something the BBFC clearly didn’t consider when slapping a 12 on it.


The only slight defense I’m willing to give to the BBFC is that the episode is a bit darker than any other episode in the series, and may have alarmed the examiner who was drifting off/slapping the U rating on every episode. However, the PG rating would clearly indicate to parents that there was content of a mild impact, including “frightening sequences or situations where characters are in danger” (which I guess is what the movie clip would qualify as – the series’ characters themselves weren’t in danger, but the woman in the movie was) that aren’t prolonged or intense.

The 12 rating of Rilakkuma and Kaoru is a perfect example of an ongoing issue with the BBFC – no one under the age of 12 is allowed to feel briefly alarmed, and no one under the age of 15 is allowed to actually be scared.


The main purpose of this article is to provide information for UK parents who may be concerned when they see this cute show appearing on their Netflix with a 12 rating. As such, here are some Google keywords to help it reach its intended audience:

why is rilakkuma and kaoru rated 12

rilakkuma and kaoru 12 rating

rilakkuma and kaoru age rating

rilakkuma and kaoru bbfc

rilakkuma and kaoru moderate horror

rilakkuma and kaoru brief moderate horror

 

The 5 dumbest video game controversies

Every year seems to have at least a couple video game-related controversies. Rather it be a mass shooter who so happened to like video games or someone making an exploitation film-esque apocalypse game, games have never been given the same liberty or benefit of the doubt that films, television series, and books often do. This is perhaps due to common stereotypes about gamers as antisocial, violent, and misogynistic.

However, some of these controversies can simply be summarized as “much ado about nothing.” When it came to these incidents, news outlets all of a sudden didn’t feel the need to fact-check, and the public went into a panic about something that didn’t actually exist. I’ll be talking about five of these incidents in this post.

Now, you may be asking to yourself, “What does this have to do with age ratings?” Well, the controversies I’m showcasing here all have something in common—they were easily avoidable if a few people would’ve either looked at or looked at the associated advice of an age rating.


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Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas is perhaps the most well-known example on this list, and this won’t be our first time talking about it on this blog. However, as I’ve dug more into this incident, I’ve found even more peculiar things about it that I’d like to share in this post.

For the few that may be unfamiliar, retail copies of San Andreas were recalled in (North America?) after modders unlocked a sex-based minigame that had been removed before the game’s release but was still in the game’s files. The ESRB retracted their original rating for the game and rerated it as AO (also adding “Nudity” to the content descriptors), forcing Rockstar Games to patch/re-release the game to make the content completely inaccessible.

However, if we seriously look at the Hot Coffee minigame, we can find that the content contained in it didn’t cross the line into what would generally be considered above an R rating—there’s thrusting and flopping around, but no graphic nudity beyond backsides. Grand Theft Auto V would be able to get away with way more explicit depictions just nine years later.

Furthermore, the public seemed to temporarily forget that Vice City was a game already full of adult content from a historically mature franchise, sex minigame or not. An 85-year-old grandmother attempted to sue Rockstar after purchasing the game for her 14-year-old grandson. The game was already rated as unsuitable for her grandson, and the only way he would see the locked content is if he deliberately seeked it out online.

The most amusing part of all this is probably Rockstar’s website, “No More Hot Coffee”, which appears to have been made for parents who want to lock their children out of the Hot Coffee mod…never mind the fact that their children, if seeking it out, certainly know how to get around this.

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Mass Effect

Mass Effect was an exciting release in gaming, particularly due to its storytelling and how every choice you make and relationship you build affects the gameplay. If a relationship becomes intimate, a cutscene which shows the player caressing their lover and partial breast/buttock nudity may occur.

Somehow, a neoconservative blogger managed to turn this into the game allowing the player to “sodomize” whoever they please and create “virtual orgasmic rape.” One crazy guy like this should’ve been blown off, right?

Well, somehow this story managed to continue, live on the air, on Fox News, where reporters claimed the game “left nothing to the imagination” and contained “full digital nudity.” Game journalist Geoff Keighley was brought on in a half-hearted attempt to “present both sides”, but he was placed against a holier-than-thou psychologist who seemed to think she knew everything about this game she hadn’t played.

The Fox News segment ended with the “news team” clearly on the psychologist’s side, wondering aloud why the game hadn’t received an AO rating. Uhh…because it doesn’t have any AO content?

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending—the psychologist later retracted her statements in an interview after actually watching someone playing the game, saying she’d seen episodes of Lost that were more sexually explicit. The first Mass Effect game went on to sell millions of copies, at least some of them likely fueled by the Fox News segment that went viral online.

For anyone looking for an honest look at Mass Effect‘s content, read the BBFC’s long insight.

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Night Trap

Night Trap appeared before the Senate as an example of a potentially youth-corrupting game. It, along with Mortal Kombat, was fundamental in the creation of the ESRB.

Its controversy was also majorly overblown and based on exaggerations, if not complete fabrications of the game’s content.

When Night Trap was first released, its Sega CD cover (pictured above) had a small advisory sideways on the right corner that read “CONTENT ADVISORY: May not be suitable for young children”. This was an understandably easy-to-miss warning compared to Mortal Kombat‘s clear MA-13 rating, but the front and back cover clearly indicated a certain level of menace in the game.

The main goal of Night Trap was to save a group of girls at a sleepover from being attacked by vampiric creatures. Somehow, some of those testifying at the Congressional hearings condemned the bad endings of the game as “endorsing violence” and letting players take joy in the killing of women. (On a side note, it’s funny how this is still a problem when modern-day media presents something ‘problematic’, even if it’s presented in a negative fashion.)

In response to all the controversy (and the game being pulled from Toys R’ Us and KB Toys), Sega voluntarily pulled the Sega CD version of the game from store shelves in January of 1994. After the controversy blew over, they re-released the game on multiple platforms, this time with an M rating from the ESRB.

The story doesn’t end there. In 2017, a 25th-anniversary edition of the game was released, with a rating downgrade from the ESRB to a T rating. In 2018, this anniversary edition was released for the Nintendo Switch. Back in the Congressional hearings, Howard Lincoln, then vice president of Nintendo of America, attempted to kiss up to Congress by telling them “Night Trap will never appear on a Nintendo system.”

♪ And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? ♪

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Rule of Rose

Rule of Rose was a survival horror game with the uniqueness of having a mainly young female cast. Somehow, this got twisted by British tabloids as the game having “children being buried alive underground, in-game sadomasochism, and underage eroticism.”

Of course, none of these tabloids cared that the game had already received a PEGI rating of 16+ for violence, which certainly wouldn’t cover sadomasochism, underage eroticism, or even anything too gory in general.

Unlike Mass Effect, this controversy doesn’t have a happy ending—the Video Standards Council came out and called the accusations “nonsense”, but the game’s release was canceled in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. The game received a North American release under Atlus, but it was limited enough to make the game expensive on the second-hand market today.

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We Dare

While We Dare‘s controversy may be ridiculous, at the end of the day, the distributors/marketing team have no one but themselves to blame for it.

The game’s largest promotion was a risque trailer which implied a lot more was going on than what was actually in the game. Instead of putting their focus on the (lame) gameplay, they showed a group of young people having a randy old time, basically implying the game was easy foreplay for an orgy.

As such, when age ratings for the game began to come out (PG by the Australian OFLC and a 12 by PEGI), people began to protest without actually playing the game nor knowing its true contents.

The Australian OFLC’s review board has the best summary of the reality of the game—there are some mild sexual references in some text in the game, but the gameplay itself is more awkward than sexual, and age rating boards cannot rate content that doesn’t exist in the game/potential actions of players outside of the game.

Reconsidered: 10 films that have gotten higher BBFC ratings as time goes on

As time marches on, the general public’s attitude has largely shifted. As such, a good age rating system (looking at you, MPAA) makes it a point to consult the public and adjust their guidelines accordingly.

The BBFC consults the public every four to five years on their current guidelines, taking advice from teenagers, parents, caregivers, and common film-goers to determine what needs to be changed to fit the current attitudes.

Historically, there are more films which have lowered in rating under new guidelines; however, on occasion, a film can still be bumped up in rating based on the public indicating that something in it was no longer suitable for the category it was in. Here are ten such examples of this.


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Akira (1988)

When the anime film Akira was first classified by the BBFC in 1990 for cinema, it received a 12 rating. This is considered by many to be one of the most baffling BBFC decisions of all time considering the film’s graphic content. It also supports a theory that the director at the time, James Ferman, was abnormally lenient on animation. (There are plenty of examples from his time to back this up—The Plague Dogs and Princess Mononoke at PG, Watership Down at U…)

The film was rerated 15 for video release in 1991, likely because there was no 12 rating for video at the time.

When the film was submitted to the BBFC again for a cinema release in 2002 (and under a new BBFC director), it retained its 15 rating, with an insight reading “Contains some strong language, violence and sexual violence.” The film has a 15 to this day, with its shortened modern insight reading “strong language, bloody violence, sexual violence”. It’s going to be a quite a while (if ever) before it goes back down to the 12 rating it once had.

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Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a classic family film; a clear-cut U…right? Well, it was until 2016.

Ever since its original submission in 1971, Bedknobs and Broomsticks had carried a U rating. It wasn’t until 2009 that its consumer advice changed from “Contains no material likely to offend or harm.” to “Contains mild language and threat.”, still retaining its U rating.

For a resubmission in 2016, and with new guidelines adjusted to be stricter on mild bad language at U, Bedknobs and Broomsticks received a PG for ‘mild bad language’. This is entirely because of the scene where Charlie, a young child, exclaims “Not bloody likely!” at a Nazi soldier.

Amazon.co.uk currently has a DVD and Blu-ray version available in-print, with only the Blu-ray version carrying a PG rating. (The Blu-ray also carries incorrect consumer advice clearly copypasted from the U-rated DVD.)

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The Birth of a Nation (1915)

This historical Ku Klux Klan propaganda is one of the best examples as to how society has progressed, and how that progression has affected age ratings.

From its original release in 1915, the film received a U rating from the BBFC and maintained it upon rereleases in 1931 and 1952.

It wasn’t until 1994 that the film was submitted again, and this time under an entirely new climate for African-American people (laws against segregation weren’t passed in the UK until the 1960s). In a modern society, the BBFC felt that the film contained controversial portrayals of black people as mindless and violent and the Ku Klux Klan as heroes that had a strong potential to offend. However, also considering the historical context of the film, they decided to place it at the 15 category, recognizing older teenagers would be able to understand its historical context.

As of this writing, the film is streaming on Amazon Prime in the UK, and they for some reason have appointed their own 13+ rating rather than using the 15 from the BBFC.

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Concert for George

Concert for George is a documentary about the tribute concert held for lead Beatles guitarist George Harrison in 2002. The film was originally seen by the BBFC for a theatrical release in 2003, and received a PG with the consumer advice of “Contains mild nudity and sexual innuendo.”

Upon George Harrison’s 75th birthday, the film was re-released into theaters in 2018. The resubmission of the film led to the BBFC reclassifying it as 12A, changing what they had previously referred to as “sexual innuendo” to “moderate sex references.”

This is likely due to a bit involving the Monty Python brothers, in which they performed the classic, innuendo-laden “Sit on My Face.” A quick look at the lyrics on Google will tell you that it’s not the type of thing the BBFC will pass as PG nowadays, no matter how wholesome the rest of the work is.

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Ghostbusters (1984)

Who you gonna call? No children under 12 without adult accompaniment!

…It sounded catchier in my head.

This 80s classic had historically carried a PG certificate from the BBFC, with its last submission carrying the rating having been for a “picture-in-picture commentary” in 2009. However, in 2011 (and under new guidelines), the film was rerated for a theatrical re-release as 12A for “moderate sex references.”

This is entirely due to the scene in which Ray has a dream about receiving oral sex from a ghost – the visuals are discreet but indicate enough that the BBFC didn’t feel they were acceptable for a modern-day PG.

The home video situation for Ghostbusters can be quite confusing for a parent, as there are PG and 12-rated Blu-rays floating around, as well as a PG-rated DVD (unless you get the three-film collection, which is 12 on account of both the original and the 2016 remake).

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Jaws

The level of violence and gore contained in Jaws continues to shock American viewers who discover it carries a PG rating from the MPAA. There was also a period of time in which it carried a similar classification from the BBFC, though how long this period was may be longer than most people think.

When Jaws was first released in the UK, it carried an “A” certificate, which meant “Those aged 5 and older admitted, but not recommended for children under 14 years of age.” (Many formerly “A”-rated films are rated PG or even U today.)

The film was submitted for a video release in 1987, and, with entirely new certificates in place, received a PG rating. It retained the rating for resubmissions in 1993 and 2000; however, the 2000 DVD release also contained a gag reel which earned the DVD overall a 12 rating, and a 2005 DVD contained a storyboard comparison with “one use of strong language and moderate violence.” Therefore, Jaws has never been issued on DVD with a PG.

For a theatrical re-release in 2012, the film was reassessed by the BBFC and reclassified as 12A for “moderate threat and occasional gory moments.” It has yet to be rerated for home video as of this writing, meaning that, if a distributor really wanted to (and their print was identical to the version submitted in 2000), they could put out a Jaws DVD (without the gag reel or storyboard comparison) with a PG rating.

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Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is a very interesting case. The film was originally rated PG for “mild injury detail, drug references”, and made it through its entire theatrical run with that rating. However, on home video, it received a sudden rerating to 12 for “infrequent strong language, mild injury detail, drug references”.

This turned out to be a result of a brief shot of a character’s tattoos—if you make an effort to make them out, you can see that one of them reads “bad motherf**ker.” The BBFC clearly didn’t make this effort when the film was first classified but did for home video. (The release on home video also makes it more likely for viewers to rewind/pause and catch this.)

The word ‘motherf**ker’ is rarely allowed at a 12, but the BBFC likely felt that such a brief, easy-to-miss written instance was worthy of an exception.

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Ratatouille

Pixar’s Ratatouille is another example of a clear-cut U that’s been pushed up due to more recent changes of the BBFC guidelines. The film was originally rated in 2007 and was rated U with the insight of “Contains comic violence and one use of mild language.”

However, in 2014, the film was re-rated for a theatrical re-release, bumping it up to a PG under new guidelines for “comic violence, mild bad language”. (The long insight is identical to the one that was published for the original U-rated release.)

Similarly to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, it’s one line that got the film’s rating bumped up: a flippant use of ‘bloody’ from an irritated waiter.

Also similarly to Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the film has a U-rated DVD and PG-rated Blu-ray readily available on Amazon.co.uk. The Prime Video listing still carries a U.

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The Road to El Dorado

Hey, I recognize this one! Yep, back in November, I included The Road to El Dorado in my list of U-rated films with surprisingly objectionable content.

The BBFC’s new guidelines went into effect on February 28th of this year, and it was the very next day that a new submission for The Road to El Dorado appeared with a PG rating for “mild bad language, threat, scary scenes”. This is likely due to the single use of the word ‘crappy’ more than anything. No mention of Chel on her knees for Tulio, though.

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There Will Be Blood

Rarely do we hear about BBFC decisions being appealed (more often, the distributor will just pre-cut or cut for the rating they want). It’s even more rarely we hear about someone wanting a higher rating for their film. Unlike the other decisions on this list, this wasn’t the result of different guidelines – rather, it was a change of how the examiners applied the guidelines.

The BBFC originally rated Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood as 12A. However, before the film’s official release (some early reviews still list the film as 12A), the distributor asked the BBFC to reconsider their decision. Upon re-review, the film was changed to a 15 for “strong violence”.

If the film had stayed at the 12A category, it would definitely be one of the strongest 12As in history, largely due to the gruesome bludgeoning scene. It also likely wouldn’t have held the attention of the little kids who had been taken to a 12A to keep them quiet for a few hours.

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?”

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!