The Japanese movie Grotesque (NSFW) has gained a rare accolade this month, in being one of the few films to be refused an '18' certificate in recent years by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC).
Individuals who sell, distribute or supply the film would now be breaking the law.
According to a spokeswoman for the BBFC, this is in line with the BBFC’s duties under the Video Recordings Act 1984 (pdf), which require them to have "special regard (among the other relevant factors) to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society" as a whole.
According to the BBFC board, much of the film was focused on the assault, humiliation and torture of two victims. The main character abducts them, and then restrains, strips and sexually assaults them before inflicting horrific injuries until they die.
A sub-title on the film poster claims: "Saw and Hostel were just appetisers".
BBFC Director, David Cooke said: "Unlike other recent 'torture'-themed horror works, such as the Saw and Hostel series, Grotesque features minimal narrative or character development and presents the audience with little more than an unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism. The chief pleasure on offer seems to be in the spectacle of sadism (including sexual sadism) for its own sake."
David Cooke added: "Rejecting a work outright is a serious matter and the board considered whether the issue could be dealt with through cuts. However, given the unacceptable content featured throughout, cutting the work is not a viable option in this case and the work is therefore refused a classification."
Critics of the BBFC continue to question the basis for such decisions. In a decision earlier this year to reject a film – NF713 – for an R-18 rating, the BBFC pointed to what they saw as "a real risk of eroticising sexual violence in a potentially harmful and dangerous manner". In defending their decisions, the BBFC also talk on occasion of their legal requirement to have regard for "potential harm", which they claim is no different from "harm to potential viewers", as stipulated by s.4A of the Video Recordings Act.
This question of whether bodies that censor material for society in general should focus on "actual harm" or "potential harm" has far-reaching consequences. As the BBFC themselves point out, the present position, following a ruling by the Honourable Mr Justice Mitting in respect of video game Manhunt 2 last year, is that the bar for censorship sits at "potential harm".
In rejecting Grotesque, the BBFC further argue that a film that catalogues sadistic acts, with little or no narrative or character development, is more likely to increase the potential for harm than a film where narrative and character elements are present. Research over the last decade or so has provided a contrary point of view, with a Home Office study (pdf) in 1998 providing some support for the view that violent offenders are more likely to identify with violent characters than non-violent ones.
Previously, the BBFC refused 18-certification to 2004 movie Murder Set Pieces, which it turned down earlier this year. Prior to that, one has to go back to 2005, when the BBFC refused 18-certification to the film Terrorists, Killers And Other Wackos, which included real clips of execution and torture. ®