Cyzo: Censoring Star Wars Reviews in Japan

archive6

I picked up a copy of the new Cyzo today, and there’s a fascinating article about how the Japanese promoters/distributors of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith systematically censored magazine critics’ reviews of the film. The whole story broke as film critic Machiyama Tomohiro wrote on his blog that the promoters heavily corrected several parts of his review.

In Japan, all writers must submit their final texts about a certain person/cultural item to the corresponding management company for what is called the “genkou check.” At least in America, writers just write about their topic and give a subtle cold-shoulder or extended middle-finger to later interference, but most magazines in Japan are dependent upon the producers for access to information. So in this imbalance of power, texts get checked. Mostly, management companies just change straight-up mistakes or incorrect facts or try to stop magazines from running “spoilers,” but Machiyama was upset that the film promoters had edited his critical content.

They specifically told him to “take out” sentences, “change this expression,” and “cut the political content.” He was asked to remove references to “Greek myths.” Failing to adhere to these edits would mean losing the right to print promotional photographs from the film, and the promoters rejected another magazine’s attempt to run photo-less critical reviews, threatening to stop sending press screening passes for future movies. Comparing the films to other sci-fi works was also verboten. In other words, write a positive review or we will add you to our little blacklist.

Machiyama was particularly puzzled that the Star Wars promotion team was so keen to jettison any discussion of the film’s political message, seeing that George Lucas himself had discussed these themes in official interviews. A film critic and shukanshi writer interviewed for the article explained this action (translated quote): “Japanese distributors think that if you don’t appeal to people with ‘love’ or ‘you’ll cry’ or a famous actor’s name, OL (office ladies) and young kids won’t get into it. There’s a feeling that films that include a political message are absolutely hopeless.”

The author also notes that German film critics threatened a boycott against War of the Worlds after the distributors there attempted to ban all pre-release reviews. Japanese critics, on the other hand, did nothing and fully complied with the guidelines. Except for Machiyama, of course, who whined about it on his blog and then had the second-tier tabloid media pick up the story.

So what have we confirmed here about the Japanese media world:

  • Japanese distributors/promotion agencies threaten film critics who write negative reviews.
  • Critics and writers are unable to provide critical insight within the top-heavy imbalance of market power.
  • Nothing sells worse in Japan than political content.
  • Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

    39 Responses

    1. Momus Says:

      At least in America, writers just write about their topic and give a subtle cold-shoulder or extended middle-finger to later interference

      I write for American magazines and that isn’t quite the case. First, if I’m doing an interview with someone, I run the text past the subject to make sure I haven’t said anything embarrassing or factually incorrect. (I almost always have misunderstood something or attributed something to the wrong person, so this is essential.) Second, the magazine editor does her job and edits the piece, which means asking me to rewrite it in ways that fit it to house style, bringing out nuances and facts she wants covered, altering opinions. etc.

      I could give endless examples of this, from the publisher who asked me to mention an art movement he was part of in the 80s to the editor who commissioned a review of a new album on condition that it was a bad review, then added a note at the end saying “Fools might say this, but we think this is a great album”, then confessing to me that they only added that because they have business ties with the group in question.

      Just as you often confuse contracts with conspiracies, you seem here to be confusing collaboration with interference. You’re over-estimating individualism and the truth. It’s a Romantic emphasis which reaches its finest—and most self-destructive— achievement in the figure of someone like Hunter S. Thompson.

    2. will drew Says:

      The patronising knee-jerk defence of Japan by Momus is getting really tedious. He clearly thinks the Japanese are so child-like that Japanese culture deserves defending at all costs. Also he fails to answer any of Marxy’s points, using his usual tactic of talking about something completely different to justify anything the Japanese establishment does. No doubt he’ll bring up European destruction of Native Americans soon.

    3. Momus Says:

      Listen, it’s totally addressing Marxy’s points here to say that “checks” and “censorship” happen routinely in the journalism done in the US. Calling it a “genkou check” makes it sound very arcane and Japanese, but how is this different from my friend Suzy having to sign a 40 page contract with Courney Love before she can interview her? And how is “censorship” not just a sensationalist word for “collaboration” with subjects and editors?

      Marxy is obsessed with the myth of Japanese particularity, which is why I think he’s an inverted Nihonjinron writer. He’s also becoming somewhat tabloid, reaching every day for words like “censorship” and “conspiracy”. Why you don’t find this reflex, rather than my corrections, “really tedious” is your business, I guess.

    4. r. Says:

      hummm…nick relating his experiences of writing for american magazines doesn’t necessarily disprove david’s main point(s), it just adjusts david’s somewhat hyperbolic statement about the ‘freedom’ of the american critic.
      the ‘contracts’ nick mention exist worldwide, as do the various ‘shadings’ of freedom (journalistic or otherwise).
      is david a ‘nihonjinron’ writer for trying to show japanese ‘unique’ position? this may be a moot point, but if japan were an non-unique as nick would like it to be when it comes to these topics, that would perhaps be the most shocking thing of all.

      and now, something that i’d like nick to clarify

      nick sez: the editor who commissioned a review of a new album on condition that it was a bad review

      r.’s question: did you go ahead and write that ‘bad’ review as commissioned or not?

    5. Momus Says:

      That didn’t happen to me, but a friend I had dinner with. I had lunch the next day with the editor in question and he confirmed it. No names, no pack drill.

    6. r. Says:

      ok then nick, this ‘friend’ in question…did he go ahead and write the negative review or not? humor me with an answer please!

    7. Momus Says:

      He listened to the record, decided he didn’t like it, and therefore accepted the commission to write a bad review, only to have the magazine print it with a financial relationship-saving comment added, deliberately contradicting the article.

    8. marxy Says:

      First, if I’m doing an interview with someone, I run the text past the subject to make sure I haven’t said anything embarrassing or factually incorrect.

      You make that choice, right? I think you’re confusing courtesy with something you have to do out of fear of blacklisting.

      Second, the magazine editor does her job and edits the piece, which means asking me to rewrite it in ways that fit it to house style, bringing out nuances and facts she wants covered, altering opinions. etc.

      Maybe my original way of stating non-interference was too strong, but this is still a magazine deciding internally how to handle a story — not the company who’s written about putting pressure on the magazine for a good review.

      Just as you often confuse contracts with conspiracies, you seem here to be confusing collaboration with interference.

      Man, you’re now just an apologist! I’m talking about companies censoring the press and threatening them with future blacklisting, and you’ve taken the conversation to talking about editorial pressures within a magazine — something that still 100% constitutes “press freedom.”

      You’re over-estimating individualism and the truth.

      Did you read my essay or just cut and paste this in from somewhere else?

      And how is “censorship” not just a sensationalist word for “collaboration” with subjects and editors?

      Because this is not collaboration with subjects and editors. This is a the management company rewriting reviews — using their market power to go over the decisions of the writer, editor, and probably, the subject himself. They force all public information to be vetted so that only the management company has the right to shape images, texts, and ideas for consumptions.

      Marxy is obsessed with the myth of Japanese particularity, which is why I think he’s an inverted Nihonjinron writer.

      No, I’m not trying to blame this on “Japanese-ness,” but on a specific political and economic framework that essentially works on consolidating power and access to information at the top. I don’t blame Orientalism or Shinto – I blame good old-fashion cartels, collusion, information imbalances, blacklisting, and other un-free market techniques of keeping economic and market power in as few places as possible. You are the one excusing this by assuming it’s all “Japanese” and could not possibly have anything to with other models of economic behavior.

    9. nate Says:

      This is such a paydirt article for Marxy that I wonder if he didn’t write it himself.

      This was so clearly a point scored for marxy that I really thought momus would bleib stumm or maybe even cede one to marxy, but he just had to toss in. And what he tossed in was a doozy. If he won’t concede an inch even in this circumstance, you can’t really think momus is arguing on the up and up.

      Yet I think momus has a point, even if he waltzes grandly past it. There is an obvious parallel in america… in the media’s relation with the Bush administration, especially as being played out at the moment. So I hesitate to think this is a Japan only phenomenon, and the american problem seems much more consequential. That’s not what this blog is about though.

    10. marxy Says:

      There is an obvious parallel in america… in the media’s relation with the Bush administration, especially as being played out at the moment.

      Sure, to a certain degree. The difference is that I’ve heard countless people talk in the American media about how bad Bush’s media policy is for the freedom of speech etc., where the idea of always being beholden to the article subject is a fundamental part of the Japanese media world. The critical, dissenting magazine in Japan is an exception to the rule, while American crackdowns on press freedom are most often fought out in the public sphere. There are up’s and down’s but freedoms don’t go away quietly. For better or worse, the American media tends to pack together like wild dogs when attacked from the outside.

      Bush’s White House press corps do seem to be a lot like the Japanese kisha clubs. That’s a good comparison. I would think studying the Japanese example shows how you can essentially manipulate news coverage through organizational decisions and not outright political censorship.

      If he won’t concede an inch even in this circumstance, you can’t really think momus is arguing on the up and up.

      So is the burden of living by dogma.

    11. r. Says:

      for japanese journalism, this is about the hardest-hitting magazine that they publish. almost nobody knows about it, and they tend to be very hardcore…when it comes to issues that don’t have anything to do with japan.

      http://daysjapan.net/

      (ok, SOMETIMES they have an article about the SDF or something, or how japan mistreats people who are seeking refugee status and protection here…)

    12. Momus Says:

      I blame good old-fashion cartels, collusion, information imbalances, blacklisting, and other un-free market techniques of keeping economic and market power in as few places as possible.

      You really do love “the free market”, don’t you? You’re always taking an ax to the professional and governmental practises that oppose it. I’m afraid I lack your faith in capitalism.

    13. Momus Says:

      You really do love “the free market”, don’t you?

      But wait, no, the “free market” won’t stand as a reason to take sides between the film promoters and the press. They’re both capitalist actors in the market. Their practices are designed to help them both sell films and magazines. You talk about an “imbalance of power” between distributors and magazines, but it’s more of a collaboration than a power struggle, and balance is in the eye of the beholder. You want distributors and magazines to have very clear boundaries and very different interests. But it seems to me you’re really on the side of the disgruntled journalists who have their reviews altered, and you’re on their side because you and they subscribe to a fixed view of the truth. “My view of this film is the truth, and shouldn’t be altered to suit commercial considerations”, the journalist might think, assuming he was entirely naive about the requirements of the job (dictated by house style and the tie-ins between editorial and advertising that exist in the magazine, the taboo on political interpretations, and so on). So I think we come back to this idea of status v. contract, or the idea of the absolute v, the relative, or the idea of the individual v. the collective. Neomarxisme consistently votes status-absolute-individual, and sees contract-relative-collective as some kind of perverse abberation, rigged, fake and rotten.

      You’d presumably want to argue that the needs of the Japanese consumer would be better served by more free-ranging and negative reviews. If something’s bad, tell the consumer it’s bad, right? But is that necessarily so? Things like movie reviews are necessarily subjective. There is no “absolute truth” in them, just personal truth, which is asserted with more or less authority. (Are you one of the people who thinks cranky old Pauline Kael was the best movie critic of all time?)

      Mightn’t we see the desire to avoid politics in movie reviews as an expression of the Japanese preference to avoid conflict, something ultimately expressed in the preferences of consumers? I was always interested in the motto of new Japanese art magazine Art It, “Genuinely rude art criticism”, thinking “Wow, this really is something new in Japan!” But Art It is not rude at all. I’ve never seen a single text in there live up to the motto, which actually looks more like the Jinglish phrases on cans of hot tea or T shirts than an editorial manifesto.

      But there is criticism in the Japanese system, and it runs counter to commercial logic. It comes from the distributors themselves. The Japanese distributors of “Lost in Translation” killed the movie by releasing it long after other countries, in just one 300-seat Shibuya cinema, running it late night, and closing it quickly. Sofia Coppola is popular in Japan, but it was felt that this film was insulting to Japanese people. I was personally in agreement with that decision, made by the film’s distributor, Tohokushinsha. (Of course, perhaps the quick cinema run helped their DVD sales.)

      http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0419/p07s01-woap.html

      Japanese reviews of Coppola’s film said things like “The core story is cute and not bad; however, the depiction of Japanese people is terrible!” (that was gay critic Osugi, known for being somewhat rude and direct).

    14. Chris_B Says:

      REALLY nice try at a late save there Momus. Its OK though. I know that your paychecks depend on you maintaining your positions. Its nice that you can pull out words like “capitalist actors” when referring to others. Its too bad your mask wont ever let you admit you are at the edge of the trough waiting for the scraps left over by the bigger piggies.

      BTW if you lived here you might notice that lots of “small” films get shown ony at one place and at odd times. The fact that a distributor made the effort to get a subbed version over here in the first place could also be viewed as a tribute to what might otherwise have been viewed as not worth the investment to get a film out on more screens. As for things being delayed here, thats the norm not the exception.

      ta for now! I’m gonna take a nap before I go see Meat Beat Manifesto tonight. Its their first Japan show and I aint seen em live in like 16 years so I wanna be peppy.

    15. Machiyama's a pathetic moron Says:

      Machiyama’s fussing for the personal resentment for his shallow, boring and idiotic writing, not for the ‘political persecusion’ as he puts it to get people’s attention. Knowing him personally, I would rather say that I feel alarmed than feeling sorry for him for his writing did not get released. As far as I am concerned, he is an ugly conservatist who tries to put up lots of fronts to look and sound liberal. I worked with him before just to discover his disappointing true colors before. Don’t bother with his hysterical cry. He is only a touchy feely incompetent writer for two cents. I would not give a damn whatever ‘censored’. Or it might have been better off not to be exposed to public eyes.

    16. jasong Says:

      “Osugi-chan” is known to partake in payola for positive prose. He and Kitano Takeshi luuuvv each other.

      To the poster above (“Machiyama’s a pathetic moron”)…is that you, PM? Did you have a falling out? The learning curve here is quick, yes?

      Interesting thread!

    17. marxy Says:

      Mightn’t we see the desire to avoid politics in movie reviews as an expression of the Japanese preference to avoid conflict, something ultimately expressed in the preferences of consumers?

      Let’s say you have a “Western” system where the few companies who own all the capital write the rules of trade and punish anyone who tries to deviate. Small companies can’t enter markets, innovations threatening the status quo power balance are suppressed, and all major decisions are made by the same central people for time eternal.

      The problem is that Momus is willing to essentially excuse these kind of system in Japan under the assumption that the “thought” behind it all — which there is really no evidence for — is somehow about grass-roots level “conflict avoidance” and “harmony.” If I described that this system was taking place in Belrussia or some Eastern European country, I very doubt you would find some culturalist, essentialist reason why it’s superior to everything else in the world.

      But the problem is that we’re not discussing anything — Momus is just throwing out idealistic euphemisms for what the Japanese system could be without dealing with the Occum’s razor answer that these organizational systems appear to be highly collusive arrangements with the power held firmly in the top. You’re twisting sophisticated sociological and economic theory on contracts and social networks to fit your argument instead of actually applying them to the issue at hand. Japan isn’t different; its arrangements work to the same theories of Western scholarship.

      Something else to remember is that there are plenty of magazines in Japan that criticize, but they on criticize those who are “safe” to pick at: mostly the fallen star and the little guy. That’s a power issue, not a social one. They only harmonize when they have to much too lose. Otherwise, the arrows are fired to win maximum sales from their audience who want blood.

      And if you’re really so anti-criticism, please knock off all the negative feelings on your blog and my comment threads. This is a collaboration, right? I mean, isn’t it a bit hypocritical to try to “criticize” or “correct” my arguments that independent media/third-party opinions are a natural extension of media and consumer culture?

    18. marxy Says:

      Machiyama’s fussing for the personal resentment for his shallow, boring and idiotic writing, not for the ‘political persecusion’ as he puts it to get people’s attention.

      So, he’s lying? Or he’s just a douchebag who got censored?

    19. H. Says:

      Momus tends to get all prickly and self-defensive when anyone mentions the fact that he can neither speak nor read Japanese. But here it does seem rather crucial. Momus is defending Japanese media practise when the fact is he has never, ever actually read a word of it. Literally. He can’t read the type of magazine Marxy is talking about, he has to rely on hearsay. That’s rather like criticising Hitchcock movies without ever having seen a Hitchcock movie. Not that that would be beyond Momus I’m sure.

    20. marxy Says:

      Well, I don’t know. I think he gets the jist of it. I’m more worried that he’s out to desperately prove something in spite of overwhelming evidence suggesting something different, or at least, a slightly less idealistic version. Am I really so misled and slow-witted that my entire problem is one of a skewed perspective? If I woke up and started believing in a different dogma, would all the same empirical evidence immediately prove Momus right? Would somehow organized crime control of Japanese culture be fantastic?

    21. Momus Says:

      Momus tends to get all prickly and self-defensive when anyone mentions the fact that he can neither speak nor read Japanese. But here it does seem rather crucial. Momus is defending Japanese media practise when the fact is he has never, ever actually read a word of it. Literally. He can’t read the type of magazine Marxy is talking about, he has to rely on hearsay.

      This is a complete red herring. Do you know what I’m doing right now? I’m translating interview questions for a Japanese fashion designer into Japanese. He will respond in Japanese, and I will put what he says into my English article. I am doing this the way I do all my Japanese work: through my girlfriend Hisae. Thanks to her, I have all the command of Japanese I need. As you pointed out, Marxy is telling us stuff he got from a Japanese magazine article. Wow, it must be true, right, because the Japanese media never lies or leaves things out, right? Ah, but wait, Marxy’s whole point is about how the Japanese media leaves things out. Hence hurried defensive points are inserted about Cyzo being “highly exceptional” and so on.

      Neither Marxy nor I has an “immediate understanding” of Japan. There is no such thing. All understandings are mediated. Many philosophers more eminent than all of us have found language itself to be a rather untrustworthy source of information. But if you want Japanese, sure, I got Japanese. It’s just that that tends not to be the problem here. The problem here is Marxy’s naive, aggressive, narrow and ethnocentric statements about the land he’s living in. “Organized crime control of Japanese culture”? Isn’t that a bit… extreme? I mean, when the evidence at hand is some journalist who got a couple of things changed in his piece, as we all do? What amazes me is that Marxy’s command of Japanese gives him carte blanche, apparently, to dazzle you with “facts” like these.

    22. marxy Says:

      This is a complete red herring.

      I’m not sure we need this sentence. Cut it.

      I am doing this the way I do all my Japanese work: through my girlfriend Hisae.

      I would rewrite this in a way that tells the reader that Hisae can perfectly translate Japanese into English.

      The problem here is Marxy’s naive, aggressive, narrow and ethnocentric statements about the land he’s living in.

      Too political and negative. Cut.

      What amazes me is that Marxy’s command of Japanese gives him carte blanche, apparently, to dazzle you with “facts” like these.

      Rewrite without italicized foreign expression.

      Also, a general point: I would try to tone down your anger and vitriol. Makes you sound desperate. You’re supposed to be arguing from a position of strength.

      And I don’t need to remind you that failure to make these edits means IP blacklisting!

    23. marxy Says:

      Oops, that comment was just for Momus.

    24. r. Says:

      nick say: I have all the command of Japanese I need

      and i say: a)well, as long as you think so, i guess to DO have all you’ll ever need and b) you have command over the person who has command over the language–a kind of linguistic hegemony. fun!

    25. r. Says:

      nick say: …You’re over-estimating individualism and the truth. It’s a Romantic emphasis which reaches its finest—and most self-destructive— achievement in the figure of someone like Hunter S. Thompson.

      and i say: It’s nice to see Cubism blogging as well! who knows? perhaps marxy will be writing about japtop girls next using a nom de plume and get shut down!

    26. Chris_B Says:

      Momus: I admire your spunkiness! Even when you are beat down and kicked in the head you keep coming back like Ashita No Joe. If you dont get it, go ask your girlfriend to explain the extended metaphor to you.

    27. will drew Says:

      “Do you know what I’m doing right now? I’m translating interview questions for a Japanese fashion designer into Japanese. He will respond in Japanese, and I will put what he says into my English article. I am doing this the way I do all my Japanese work: through my girlfriend Hisae. Thanks to her, I have all the command of Japanese I need.”
      Given the situation, there’s rather too many “I”s in that paragraph.

      “Why you don’t find this reflex, rather than my corrections, “really tedious” is your business, I guess.”
      They’re not corrections. You’re talking about something else. Your defence reminds me of Monty Pythons limbless knight.

    28. r. Says:

      will drew,
      but if you’ll recall, the limbless knight was, in the end, at least left alone by his attackers…

    29. Momus Says:

      Given the situation, there’s rather too many “I”s in that paragraph.

      You’re right. The situation I describe is “distributed intelligence”. I’m just on the verge of adopting the Japanese habit of omitting all personal pronouns. Everything should become an assumed “we”, and all work should be assumed to be done collectively. Writers complaining that their articles about films are censored will in future have to say “[Assumed we] had our article about [our] film changed [by ourselves].”

    30. nickink Says:

      Great discussion everyone! I know this blog often looks like the same 4 people arguing about the same single subject, but there are a few of us loyal lurkers, waving our pom-poms in the air and chanting ‘Mo-Mus, Mo-Mus’ in the privacy of our own homes.

      So, also just to say – thanks for the articles, Marxy.

    31. marxy Says:

      waving our pom-poms in the air and chanting ‘Mo-Mus, Mo-Mus’ in the privacy of our own homes.

      You all should support Momus. He clearly wants it more. I don’t go onto websites about Shakespeare and tell everyone they’re wrong, just because I read “Hamlet” and “Henry V” in high school. This would take a lot of courage.

    32. r. Says:

      i sometimes find myself chanting ‘mo-mas, mo-mas’ at home, but that’s just because i:m a devotee of marie laveau…

      and just for anyone else out there that finds themself chanting the same thing for the same reasons, this thing

      http://www.rubenimichi.com/munecos_web/momus.html

      can really save you a lot of time and effort in the mojo department…

    33. Chris_B Says:

      Oooh! Stuffed Momus! Are they for sale in the elite boutiques of Daikanyama? I searched on Yahoo Auctions but couldnt find one, they must be super rare…

      Momus, did your girlfriend explain to you about Ashita No Joe? Again, points for trying to pull out a good defence on the I/We thing.

      nickink: you got pictures of this anywhere?

    34. Chris_B Says:

      actually its impressive that someone liked Momus enough to make the stuffed doll. props to Momus for having fans like that.

    35. PM Says:

      Jason Gray,

      No, it wasn’t me. Now please get some rest after jumping to conclusions. Thanks,

    36. marxy Says:

      By the way, the link on Machiyama’s site sent me something like 6000 readers in the last week.

    37. kochman Says:

      20-th century Fox in Japan demands Yahoo!Japan to erace sites from their search result which they consider to play down SW Epi.III. This kind of manipulation is sick!!!

    38. marxy Says:

      If that’s true, it’s very, very interesting. Any references or links?

    39. Info in Japanese Says:

      http://web.archive.org/web/19990418050936/http://www.ltokyo.com/yanasita/baka/pie.html

      http://domo2.net/search/search.cgi?word=%92%AC%8ER