Censorship in Japan has long been hot-button topic for everyone from journalists reporting on the latest police porn crackdown to academics delving into wartime controls on artistic expression, but as Kirsten Cather notes in “The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan” — her fluently written, industriously researched study of seven postwar obscenity trials — the writer’s intent is often to score points off the evil censors, not examine the actualities and implications of each side’s argument.

Cather has thus set out to examine “the often-overlooked connection between the censor and critic, a link that is crucial to understanding the dynamic relationship of censor, artist and text in modern Japan.” In these landmark trials, prosecutors have frequently played the role of, as Cather puts it, “narratologists, reception theorists, critics, editors, or even coauthors (or auteurs),” basing judgments on criteria that shift from case to case, era to era.

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