The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan
342pp. July 2012
The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan
Author: Cather, Kirsten;
In 2002 a manga (comic book) was for the first time successfully charged with the crime of obscenity in the Japanese courts. In The Art of Censorship Kirsten Cather traces how this case represents the most recent in a long line of sensational landmark obscenity trials that have dotted the history of postwar Japan. The objects of these trials range from a highbrow literary translation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and modern adaptations and reprintings of Edo-period pornographic literary “classics” by authors such as Nagai Kafu to soft core and hard core pornographic films, including a collection of still photographs and the script from Oshima Nagisa’s In the Realm of the Senses, as well as adult manga. At stake in each case was the establishment of a new hierarchy for law and culture, determining, in other words, to what extent the constitutional guarantee of free expression would extend to art, artist, and audience.

The work draws on diverse sources, including trial transcripts and verdicts, literary and film theory, legal scholarship, and surrounding debates in artistic journals and the press. By combining a careful analysis of the legal cases with a detailed rendering of cultural, historical, and political contexts, Cather demonstrates how legal arguments are enmeshed in a broader web of cultural forces. She offers an original, interdisciplinary analysis that shows how art and law nurtured one another even as they clashed and demonstrates the dynamic relationship between culture and law, society and politics in postwar Japan.

The Art of Censorship will appeal to those interested in literary and visual studies, censorship, and the recent field of affect studies. It will also find a broad readership among cultural historians of the postwar period and fans of the works and genres discussed.

13 illus.

Studies of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University
“This book is definitely a page-turner. ... This is a must-assign book for any course on modern Japan, visual arts and society, or modern legal, social, or cultural history.” –Chad R. Diehl, Loyola University Maryland

“The book assembles an impressive cast of characters as defendants and witnesses: Ito Sei, Mishima Yukio, Nakamura Mitsuo, Nosaka Akiyuki, Oshima Nagisa, Yoshiyuki Jun’nosuke, Kanai Mieko, and Suzuki Seijun, among others. The accounts of their testimonies are of great interest, not least because of what they reveal of the artistic implications for writers and directors of the legal arguments and verdicts. Cather has drawn fascinating insights that are of value both for the study of Japanese cultural history, and for the study of literature and other media more generally.” – Duncan Adam, Japan Review 25 (2013)

“Cather has succeeded admirably in presenting the complexity of an ongoing legal debate between censor and censored, as well as the social, political and cultural backdrop of her selected cases.” –Mark Schilling, Japan Times

“Kirsten Cather has written an important and carefully researched survey of Japan’s major postwar obscenity trials involving literature and film. The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan frustrates our typical comfort by simultaneously celebrating subversive art and mocking efforts to regulate cultural expression. Cather leverages close readings of argumentation by prosecution, defense, witnesses, and judges at the trials themselves and succeeds in demonstrating that these events are far more complex than we tend to assume.” –Steven Ridgely, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Art of Censorship in Postwar Japan is among the most lucid and engaging cross-disciplinary projects to emerge from Japan studies in recent years. It will appeal to a broad readership both inside and outside Japan studies, in particular scholars of literature, visual culture, law, and the emerging field of affect studies. Kirsten Cather accomplishes this remarkable feat by combining close readings of aesthetic, literary, and visual texts; careful exegesis of court cases and juridical documents; and detailed rendering of cultural, historical, and political contexts. The Art of Censorship demonstrates once and for all, without ever forcing the issue, that culture and politics are inexorably intertwined. I can think of no other study in the Japanese case that does it so well.” —Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Columbia University

“In a series of deft analyses bristling with insights, Kirsten Cather surveys the trial records and some of the media responses for each of Japan’s major obscenity cases between 1950 and 2007. This highly original work vividly presents the theoretical stakes for literature, film, photography, and manga in each of the trials. The writing is lucid and strong throughout, sophisticated but jargon-free and accessible to non-specialists.” —Jordan Sand, Georgetown University  
Author: Cather, Kirsten;
Kirsten Cather is associate professor of Japanese literature and film in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Read the Introduction (PDF).


Part I East Meets West, Again: Trying Translations  
1 Lady Chatterley’s Censor (1951–1957) 
2 The Legacy of Chatterley: Sade (1961–1969) and Beyond 

Part II Pinks, Pornos, and Politics 
3 Dirt for Politics’ Sake: The Black Snow Trial (1965–1969) 
4 Dirt for Money’s Sake: The Nikkatsu Roman Porn Trial (1972–1980) 

Part III The Canon under Fire 
5 Pornographic Adaptations of the Classics: The Safflower (1948–1950) and The Record of the Night Battles at Dannoura (1970–1976) 
6 Kafu: Censored, Dead or Alive (1948–1950, 1973–1980) 

Part IV Trying Text and Image 193 
7 A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words: In the Realm of the Senses (1976–1982) 
8 Japan’s First Manga Trial: Honey Room (2002–2007) 

Works Cited