Friday, November 28, 2008

The dark side of Japanese pop culture: Child advocates criticize Japan's slowness in responding to "virtual child porn"

by Chris MaGee

Some long overdue, but at the same time disturbing news from Anime News Network. This year Japan made history by setting up it's first laws making possession of child pornography illegal. While the ruling LDP government had introduced legislation in 1999 and again in 2004 to make the production and distribution of child pornography illegal any individual found to be in possession of images of child exploitation (shockingly) could not be prosecuted. Thankfully this situation was rectified by amendments passed through the Japanese parliament this past March, but participants at the World Congress III Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents currently taking place in Rio de Janeiro continue to criticize Japan for not going far enough to stem the spread of child pornography.

They argue that the new law does not cover "virtual child pornography" or anime and manga featuring sexualized imagery of children. The United Nations Children's Fund and anti-child exploitation activists in Japan continue to lobby to have this loophole closed, but the Japanese government still feels that more investigation needs to take place before they can take action. How much more investigation? Apparently three years worth. Democratic Party of Japan member Muneaki Murai is one politician who feels that's simply too long a wait and has collected 10,449 signatures of people who feel the same way, but there are critics of a complete ban on this type of material. Social Democratic Party member Nobuto Hosaka has argued that criminalizing certain artistic depictions of adolescent sexuality could create free speech and privacy issues and has produced his own petition, but with only 225 signatures.

It's a difficult issue, maybe too difficult an issue to be bringing up on a Japanese film blog. While I have always been an advocate for freedom of speech and artistic expression there is a huge gulf between films like, say, Masato Harada's "Bounce KO Gals" and Hideki Anno's "Love & Pop", both serious exposés of the disturbing trend of enjo kosai, or "subsidized dating" between Japanese high school girls and grown men, and some of the truly disturbing manga, anime and films that tread a very dangerous line between what's artistic and what's pedophilic. What is art and what is pornography? I suppose it depends on from what well of inspiration it springs, how the artist depicts a given situation and how it affects those who consume it. Sexual material, real or virtual, between consenting adults is one thing, but I think that most of you would wholeheartedly agree that when it comes to children it's another matter entirely. In the end what I find most disturbing about this controversy and the recent development of anti-child pornography laws in Japan is that they are so terribly, terribly late in coming.

Thanks to Anime News Network for their continuing coverage of this very important issue.

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