The House of Blue Leaves fight scene in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol. 1 is one of the most gruesome scenes in the entire picture. When it was released in the U.S., the scene was in black and white to tone down violence. When it was released in Japan, the scene was in living color featuring shots cut from the American release, under the assumption that Japanese audiences and censors could handle it.
They could. Yet, whenever a violent video game is released in Japan, it's slapped with the country's equivalent of Adults Only and will often have its violence toned down. This despite Japanese cinema, for decades, churning out bloody samurai, yakuza, and horror flicks.
Japanese cinema didn't become increasingly violent in a vacuum. As television gained more viewers during the 1950s and 1960s, Japanese movies tried to get people out of the living room and into theaters with wide-screen and things they couldn't see at home on TV, such as violence and nudity.
Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Japanese exploitation flicks entered a golden age, showing skin and blood. Movie studios could not compete with big budget Hollywood productions and, as a matter of survival, they perfected both boob-filled and blood-soaked grindhouse flicks.
Movie studios could not compete with big budget Hollywood productions, and, as a matter of survival, they perfected both boob-filled and blood-soaked grindhouse flicks.
Similar trends were happening in the U.S. and Europe, but Japan continued to raise the bar. When Sonny Chiba's The Street Fighter was released in America, it was the first film to get an X-rating for violence. The country continued to produce films on the extreme end of the spectrum—not just straight to video stuff or pornos, but arty movies like Audition and mainstream motion pictures like Battle Royale.
As soon as Battle Royale was released in Japan, friends of mine who worked in film distribution in America said that due to school shootings and the movie's violence, it would be incredibly hard to release the film in the States.
Violent low budget flicks like Versus and The Machine Girl are released, no biggies. The director of Versus went on to make Godzilla: Final Wars, while Noboru Iguchi, who started out in scat porn before moving onto gore flicks like The Machine Girl and Robo Geisha, is helming the feature film version of Denjin Zaborger. Both are talented, over-the-top filmmakers, but Japan has a much higher tolerance for movie gore, than it does for game gore. Take Carmageddon, which had red blood changed to green and people changed to zombies. Green blood isn't a Japan-only device, making family friendly appearances in Western games as well.
It has been traditionally assumed that the reason for this difference is that video games consoles are still for the most part sold in toy stores—or near the toy section of electronics shops. There are retailers that specialize in video games only, but historically, video games in Japan are associated with toys and toy stores.
Japan is not unique in this regard, as other countries, such as Australia and Germany, have vastly different standards for movie violence and video game violence. An Australian directed the gore porn flick Saw, which was released in theaters; meanwhile, Australia has banned violent titles like Manhunt and Postal 2. Other games, such as Silent Hill: Homecoming were toned down for release.
In years past, violent movies were blamed for societal ills and condemned. The world has largely moved on, and games have filled that role. But with the recent Supreme Court ruling in the U.S., perhaps other countries will also begin holding video games to the same standards that they hold movies.