Recent news that an anime film adaptation of the smash-hit “Demon Slayer” series has been rated R (Restricted) ahead of its U.S. release has made some wonder how the movie, known for its occasional depictions of violence, was rated in its home country, and prompted an even broader question: What do film ratings really mean in Japan?
An independent organization called the Film Classification and Rating Organization, commonly known as Eirin in Japanese, is tasked with rating films in Japan.
Rebranded in 1956 from its previous incarnation, Eirin currently has eight raters with experience in the movie industry who vet more than 800 submissions, including films, trailers and promotional flyers, annually. It has four rating levels: G, PG12, R15+ and R18+.
G, short for “General Audience,” means there is no age restriction at all. PG12 indicates parental “advice and guidance” are needed for anyone under age 12. Films rated R15+ and R18+, meanwhile, are available only to those age 15 or older and those age 18 or older, respectively.
The “Demon Slayer” movie, titled “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train,” was rated PG12 in Japan. Unlike the Motion Picture Association (MPA)’s R rating in the U.S., which mandates “accompaniment” by adult guardians for anyone under the age of 17, PG12 in Japan doesn’t go so far as to require adults to accompany those age under 12 to theaters, essentially letting children of any age watch films on their own.
Both Eirin and the MPA caution the audience about bloodshed in the film, a sequel to the TV anime series about a young swordsman fighting demons to save his sister.
Violence, however, is not the only element that factors into Eirin’s evaluation, which is based on eight categories of potential maturity: violence, nudity, sex, crime, drugs, terror, language and theme.
Eirin officials say raters base their decisions on a category that contains the most sensitive material: a two-hour film with an extremely sexual scene of just 10 seconds, for example, can be rated R18+ even if it is otherwise perfectly innocuous.
“In cases like that, we ask (a production company) to edit out or camouflage the scene in question if they’re really keen on their film being rated G,” Tomoharu Ishikawa, executive director of Eirin, said.
The question of what rating should be assigned to a film isn’t always an easy one, but there are some depictions commonly characteristic of each of them. For example, the portrayal of children running afoul of the law, such as by smoking, drinking and riding motorcycles without helmets on, usually scores a film a PG12 rating, Eirin officials say.
Likewise, graphic depictions of violence and sex are typical of films rated R15+ or higher, a principle that applies not only to live-action but anime movies too.
“Even in anime, if there is a direct depiction of someone being shot in the head and blood spewing out, that scene takes on a certain sense of reality and can be regarded as R15+-worthy,” Makoto Ozaki, one of the Eirin raters, said.
The same goes for sex scenes, depending on how meticulously they are presented.
“If the screen is zoomed out to a point where a man on top can be clearly seen moving his hips, then it’s likely to be rated as high as R18+, but if the scene is zoomed in so that we are only shown his belly, it could end up R15+,” Ozaki said.
But sometimes, there is only a fine line separating each rating.
In the case of “Demon Slayer,” for example, its profusion of violence, Eirin officials say, was somewhat offset by the fact that the killings took place between humans and demons, as opposed to humans slaughtering fellow humans. Likewise, humans killing zombies tends to be seen with more tolerance due to the sense of unreality, they said.
“Also, in the ‘Demon Slayer’ movie, swords often emit water and fire as they cut into enemies, camouflaging blood and toning down violence as a result,” Takaki Sekine, another Eirin rater, said.
Films with a fairly high amount of sexual content could make it as PG12, too. According to Eirin officials, depictions of female nudity aren’t R-rated material in themselves, unless they evolve into more sexually active scenes, such as the fondling of breasts.
Eirin, however, says whatever rating it gives doesn’t reflect its thoughts on the quality of each movie.
“What we’re rating are depictions only. In other words, we’re not judging plots or messages of films. Even a film in which a person behaves in an extremely disagreeable manner can be rated G if it doesn’t contain any problematic depictions,” Ishikawa said.
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