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Japan: Is it obscenity or is it art?

On February 19, the Japanese Supreme Court ruled that a Robert Mapplethorpe book, confiscated at Narita Airport in 1999 on the basis of its perceived pornographic content, does not violate obscenity law. The book in question, titled “Mapplethorpe”, contains 384 pages of photographs of various subjects, 19 of which contain closeup photos of male genitalia. Asakai Takashi, the publisher of the Japanese edition of “Mapplethorpe”, came back from the US with the book in 1999, at which time the customs authorities confiscated it. After this incident, he suspended sales of the Japanese version when he received a warning from Tokyo Police in 2000, and later he took the case to court. For samples of Mapplethope's works, see the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation website (declaimer: explicit nudity). Many Japnaese bloggers took up and discussed the news.

zmgojdha at Slightly out of fortune comments:

こんなことが裁判沙汰になっていたとは初めて知った。

「芸術性と猥褻性の法律論」というのは、言葉として成り立っていないかも知れない。だから可笑しいと言えば可笑しいし、でも仕方が無いと言えば仕方が無い。

今回の判決は、一部を取り沙汰すれば猥褻とも言い得るという点を踏まえた上でのことと思うが、芸術的観点から全体としては猥褻書物に当たらないとした。ほう、という感じではある。ロバート・メイプルソープという、評価が確立している大芸術家であればこその判決だったとも言えそうだ。

This is the first time I've heard of this kind of case being brought through the court.

“Legal theory of artistic quality and obscenity” may be created as a word. That's why it is as funny as it is, but also as inevitable as it is.

The reason they came to this verdict, I think, is that if you take some parts [of the collection] it could be argued that they are obscene, but from an artistic point of view this is not an obscene book. This makes me wonder. You could say that this verdict [in favor of] Robert Mapplethorpe was a result of him having an established reputation as an artist.

karubi, although happy with the verdict, does not believe that this recurring controversy is something that can be solved by court.

最高裁の裁判官は(裁判官でなくともその指示を受けた人が)、東京や大阪や名古屋の街に出て、メイプルソープの写真集を持って道行く人1000人くらいに「この男性器の写っている写真は卑猥に思いますか?」と聞けばいいのである。私は本気でそう思っている。そうすれば多分、800人以上の人は「猥褻ではない。」「奇麗だ。」「面白い。」と答えるだろうと思う。常識というものは、明晰な頭脳を持つ裁判官とか偉い方々が意識して作れるものではなく、世間一般の人たちが世の中の流れを感じながら自然と形成していくものである。

The Supreme Court judges (or, if not the judges, then the people who are assigned [to this case]) should go out with the Mapplethorpe book and ask about 1000 passers-by in the street: “Do you find these photographs containing male genitals obscene?” I am seriously thinking about this. Then probably over 800 people would say: “these are not obscene”, or [they would say that they are] “beautiful”, or [that they are] “interesting”. Common sense is not something that can be deliberately created by discerning judges in high positions, rather it is something that is shaped naturally by common people who sense the trends of the time.

On the other hand, some bloggers expressed their negative views on the verdict as well as on the artist's works.

kosodatejityan1 says he has difficulty understanding Mapplethorpe's works.

それにしても 私の常識では
如何に芸術性があるのかどうかは分りませんが

そういうものを 一部とはいえ アップの写真集にして
世間に自分の存在を知られたく思う神経が 私には理解出来ません。

山川草木 動物や小鳥 自然の中に 幾らでも題材はあるはずですのにね 〜。

余程 写真芸術家として 
表現するものが無かったのでしょう と思ってしまいます。

Anyway, from a common sense viewpoint, I don't know if there is any artistic element to this,
but I can't understand the psychology of taking closeup photos of these things and putting them together to make a photography collection — even though they [the obscene things] are just some parts of [the collection] — and making yourself known for this.

You've got mountains, rivers, plants, trees, animals and birds, there are many themes in nature.

I am thinking he must really not have anything to express as an artist.

Another blogger is strongly disappointed at the decision.

 性器のドアップ写真がわいせつでなく芸術であるという判断は全く納得できない。公序良俗に反するのは間違いない。そもそも、芸術かわいせつかを裁判所が判断できるわけが無い。個人の主観に委ねられ、客観的な判断基準がないからだ。したがって、性器の写真であればわいせつである、と機械的に判断するしかない。

 よって、「性器が露骨に配置された写真はわいせつ物に当たる。芸術性があることを理由にわいせつ性を否定するのは許されない」という堀籠幸男裁判官の反対意見は尤もである。

 大体、「人間の裸は芸術だ」などという考えは元々日本には無い。中世ヨーロッパの反動ではないのか。わしは、性器の写真はわいせつだと思うし、女性のなら大好きだ(笑)。だが、公然と見るのはどうかと思う。表現の自由も、歴史や伝統、公序良俗に規制されて当然だ。最高裁が歯止めにならなくてどうする。

I can't understand the judgment at all that closeup pictures of genitalia are art, and not obscenity. There is no doubt that this is offensive to public order and morals. The court cannot judge whether it is art or obscenity to begin with. It is because it's up to an individual's subjectivity, and for this reason there is no objective standard on which the judgment can be based. Therefore, there is no choice but to automatically judge pictures of genitalia as obscene.
So, Judge Yukio Horigome is correct in objecting with the argument that: “Pictures explicitly depicting genitalia are pornography. It is impermissible to deny their obscene nature using artistic quality as an excuse.”
The concept that “the naked human body is art” does not traditionally exist in Japan anyway. It’s a counter-reaction to the Medieval era of Europe. I think pictures of genitalia are obscene and I love female ones (lol). However, I wonder if it's right to look at it openly like this. Freedom of expression should obviously be regulated based on history, traditions and public order and morals. What's the use of the Supreme Court if it can't stop things like this.

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