The newest theatrical anime from Studio Ghibli, "Kaguya Hime no Monogatari," opened just over a week ago. While we came away impressed, the movie-going public at large hasn’t been coming out in the numbers expected for a release by the legendary animation production house.
Now, one film critic is speculating that the movie may have trouble bolstering its lackluster box office numbers with overseas revenue, stating his opinion that "Kaguya Hime no Monogatari" may not be screenable in certain markets outside Japan without censoring multiple scenes.
Author and journalist Akihiko Reizei recently wrote a column for the Japanese-edition of Newsweek, offering his impressions on "Kaguya Hime no Monogatari." Reizei was gushing in his praise for the picture, calling it “a tour de force” and predicting that it will go on to become a timeless classic.
But despite his personal love for the film, Reizei expressed concerns about the ability to screen it, in its current form, overseas. The critic expressed his doubts about scenes showing visible breasts while nursing, half-naked babies and children, and a completely naked young girl diving into a pool of water.
While Japan’s relaxed attitude regarding on-screen nudity of the animated sort mean that none of these scenes are raising eyebrows in the film’s country of origin, Reizei believes they will cause problems with distribution in nations with different cultural barometers. In particular, the critic feels that severe viewing restrictions would be placed on "Kaguya Hime no Monogatari" in Islamic countries, and that showing it with a general-admission age rating in the U.S. would be “completely impossible.”
As a result, Reizei is proposing that the film be recut into an “international version” for overseas theater screenings. While some readers agreed with the critic’s logic, others were less than receptive.
“If Studio Ghibli does what he’s suggesting, it will kill any value it has as a film.”
“Is it really worth throwing away your artistic vision just to cater to overseas audiences?”
Any discussion of re-edited Ghibli films isn’t complete without a mention of "Warriors of the Wind," the 1985 reworking of director Hayao Miyazaki’s breakout hit "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind." Some 20 minutes shorter than the original, "Warriors of the Wind" was a critical and commercial failure. Studio Ghibli was so disappointed with this experiment in warping one of its finished films to fit overseas tastes that when it was preparing to release "The Princess Mononoke" in the U.S., producer Toshi Suzuki famously sent a katana to American distributor Miramax with a note instructing “No cuts.”
Several of Ghibli’s works have been released in America without a general-admission G-rating, such as "Spirited Away" and "Howl’s Moving Castle," both of which were released as PG films. "Princess Mononoke" and "Tales from Earthsea" both drew PG-13 ratings for their scenes of physical violence and psychological intensity.
It’s also worth noting that while the across-the-board appeal of Ghibli’s films in Japan means that a large number of young children are likely to be in the audience of any screening, the fan base for its movies tends to skew slightly older in foreign countries. Many overseas ticket buyers discovered Ghibli films after being drawn in during their teens to the counter-culture appeal of Japanese animation. As such, most are mature enough to not go to pieces over an animated breast, particularly one that’s not being shown for titillation.
That said, if Ghibli’s goal is to reach the largest audience possible, at some point producers are going to have to weigh the gains of sticking to their original edit over the losses of a potentially smaller audience. All in all, the dilemma of how much, if anything, to cut is a fitting one for "Kaguya Hime no Monogatari," seeing as how the film is based on a Japanese folktale often translated as "The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter."
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