Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Robert Mapplethorpe, Supreme Court, and Male Genitals

"The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that photos of male genitals contained in a Robert Mapplethorpe photo book confiscated in 1999 are not obscene, overturning a customs house decision to prevent copies of the book from being brought into the country.

"Presiding Justice Kohei Nasu said in the ruling: "The photo book is edited from an artistic point of view. Judging the book as a whole, it can't be regarded as an obscene publication."

"The ruling handed down by the No. 3 Petty Bench of the top court also nullified a ruling by the Tokyo High Court, which had upheld the customs decision.

"The ruling marks a final defeat for the government in the case.

"The ruling was 4-1 among five justices. In 1999, the Supreme Court judged another photo book by the late U.S. photographer to be obscene.

"As Tuesday's ruling recognized the photo book, which contains five photos that were judged to be obscene in the 1999 ruling, as an artwork, it suggests that the nation's concept of obscenity has changed.

"Legal experts said it was the first time that the Supreme Court had overturned a lower court ruling over whether a work is obscene.

"The plaintiff was Takashi Asai, 52, president of a film distribution company in Tokyo.

"According to the ruling, Asai brought a copy of the 384-page photo book, titled "Mapplethorpe," from the United States to Narita Airport. The book contained 20 close-up photos of male genitals on 19 pages, as well as images of flowers and people.

"Customs authorities at the airport prohibited him from bringing the photo book into the country, saying it fell into the category of publications considered likely to damage morals, with import thus prohibited under the Customs Tariff Law.

"The majority of justices pointed out that Mapplethorpe won high acclaim as an art photographer. They said the photo book was edited to allow an overview of the whole of his photographic art, and that the controversial photos constituted a very small portion of the whole.

"They judged that, seeing it as a whole, it was difficult to regard the book as intended to arouse sexual desire. Commenting on the 1999 ruling, they said that the two judgments do not contradict as the content of the two photo books and the times of the customs house decisions were different."

By Yomiuri (2/20/2008), The Yomiuri Shimbun, Link to article (last visited 2/27/2008)

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