Grotesque Torture Porn Banned by BBFC

by Elliot Adams

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has refused certification to Koji Shiraishi’s Gurotesuku, which was due to be released in the UK under the title of Grotesque. This puts the film in the company of an extremely select group to have earned the dubious honour of outright bans in the UK, being only one of three films to have been banned by the Board in the last four years, the others being Murder-Set-Pieces in 2008 and NF713 in 2009 – all three having been banned for their scenes of eroticised torture.

Courtesy of BBFC

Japanese cinema has a long history of depicting this type of sadomasochism, from Masumura Yasuzo’s story of abduction Blind Beast (1969) through to Takashi Miike’s psychodrama Audition (1999). But Grotesque is more likely to now be associated with the controversial genre of ‘torture porn’ which originated in Hostel and Saw. BBFC Director, David Cooke claims these ‘18’ rated ‘torture porn’ films are surpassed by Grotesque’s “unrelenting and escalating scenario of humiliation, brutality and sadism” where the chief pleasure on offer is the “spectacle of sadism.”

This latest act of censorship marks the point at which ‘torture porn’ becomes unacceptable to the BBFC. But the uncrossable line is far from distinct to the outside observer. For example, Lars von Trier’s Antichrist was recently released by the BBFC without cuts. It depicts a similar, although highly aestheticisized, scenario to Grotesque. Both films have similar scenes of mutilation and torture and similar victims, so what exactly is the difference between the two?

For David Cooke however, the difference is clear. Grotesque‘s scenes of torture are clearly eroticised, whereas Antichrist uses torture and scenes of real sex to illustrate psychological turmoil and so is “not a ‘sex work’ whose primary purpose is sexual arousal.  For these purposes Antichrist is very clearly not a ‘sex work’.”

Cooke’s remarks on Grotesque, which unlike American ‘torture porn’, emphasizes the sexual element implied by that label, will be seen by some as a valid rationale for its banning, and by others as a reason for viewing it.

It is hard to take this hype seriously in either case, especially when the film contains a particularly memorable scene in which a decapitated head bites the antagonist on the neck to the tune of Land of Hope and Glory. Whether the BBFC is protecting us from “moral harm” or indulging in nanny-statism will only become clear when the film emerges from the BBFC’s own darkened cellars and audiences are allowed to decide in the light of day.