Grotesque is a subtitled Japanese horror work directed by Kôji Shiraishi in 2009. At the time, it was billed as 'the film that could make even the most extreme splatter horror fan vomit'. A man kidnaps a couple on their first date and subjects them to various acts of sexual violence and extreme torture, while demanding that they 'excite' him sexually and prove their love for each other through death. After enduring considerable pain, suffering and humiliation, they are murdered - just another two of his numerous victims.
The film was submitted for video classification in July 2009 and viewed by several Examiners and the two Senior Examiners. It was then referred upwards to the Head of Policy, the Director and the Presidential tier (consisting of the President and two Vice Presidents) for further viewing and consideration, as is the case with controversial works. After much debate and deliberation, and with various opinions expressed, the film was finally rejected in August 2009 (read the BBFC Press Release). This means that it cannot be legally supplied anywhere in the UK.
Although Grotesque was for the most part considered to be a well made film, there is minimal narrative or character development. For the majority of its runtime of 75 minutes, the focus is on the sexual assault, humiliation and extreme torture of the couple, who are kidnapped at the start of the film and subjected to a horrific ordeal until they are murdered at the end.
The terrified couple are seen restrained in a room, facing each other, then stripped and masturbated by the killer until they reach orgasm. This scene both endorses and eroticises sexual violence and therefore contravenes the BBFC’s published Guidelines and strict policy on this issue. Soon afterwards, the couple are subjected to acts of extreme torture, including amputation, castration and eye gouging. Towards the end of the film, the man is subjected to evisceration in order to attempt to save the woman and they are both murdered. The killer is then seen selecting his next victim as the film ends. There is a strong element of humiliation, brutality and sadism in the torture, which contravenes the Guidelines.
Compulsory cuts are most likely to be required to scenes of sadistic violence or torture which invites the viewer to identify with the perpetrator in a way that could be harmful. Under the Video Recordings Act (VRA) 1984, the BBFC is obliged to have special regard to the likelihood of any harm that may be caused to the viewer or, through their behaviour, to society. The VRA makes it clear that harm is not to be interpreted narrowly as simply behavioural harm, but may also include more insidious risks. The BBFC follows this approach in regard to scenes encouraging a dehumanised view of others, or taking pleasure in the pain or humiliation of others, for example.
The Guidelines on rejected works state that 'If a central concept of the work is unacceptable (for example, a sex work with a rape theme); or if intervention in any of the ways noted above is not acceptable to the submitting company; or if the changes required would be extensive or complex; the work may be rejected, ie refused a classification at any category'. Cuts were not considered viable given that there was so much unacceptable material in the film, and the film was therefore rejected.
Grotesque is also markedly different to the Saw and Hostel ‘torture porn’ series, in that those films contain a more developed narrative and there is therefore more contextual justification for the strongest scenes. It is in fact more similar in tone and treatment to another film called NF713, which consisted of a lengthy torture scenario, mostly of a sexual nature, involving a female victim and a male doctor character. Cuts to NF713 were not regarded as viable and the work was refused a classification certificate in April 2009.
The BBFC received approximately ten emails in response to the decision to reject Grotesque, most of which were vehemently against the ban, and comparisons were made with other films which have been classified. The police and relevant internet service providers also had to be informed after a death threat was received by email. On the other hand, there were a couple of emails supporting the BBFC’s decision. In an interview with 3:AM Magazine, the director Koji Shiraishi discussed his feelings about the decision: ‘I was happy. Since there was a reaction I was very happy, but of course if it can’t be shown, and it can’t be released, I’m a little disappointed, but actually that means the movie I’ve made has the power to cause a controversy, so I’m happy in that way’. The full interview with Koji Shirashi, where he explains the reasons behind making Grotesque, can be read here.
The IMDb user reviews for Grotesque also provide some interesting and mixed opinions, mostly from horror fans curious about the reasons for rejecting the film.