What is Eirin?
The Film Classification and Rating Organization (映画倫理機構, Eiga Rinri Kikō), also known as Eirin (映倫), is Japan’s self-regulatory film regulator. It classifies films into one of four categories depending on their suitability for viewing by minors of different ages. Its headquarters are located in Chūō, Tokyo, Japan.
During the opening credits (or in some cases, on the copyright screen immediately following the ending credits) of an Eirin-approved film, the Eirin logo is displayed prominently underneath or beside the movie’s title. Eirin has no legal power to ban films, but the Japan Association of Theatre Owners forbids its members from screening films that haven’t been classified by Eirin.
During World War II the government of Japan censored films. The job of censoring was the responsibility of the Interior Ministry’s Police Bureau. In time censorship was subsumed with the motions picture law of 1939. After the end of World War II, the General Headquarters of the Allied Forces who had occupied Japan took on the role of censoring movies. In 1949 Japan’s motion picture industry formed its own self-regulating organization which was based on the code of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, which later became the Motion Picture Association of America.
The Motion Picture Code of Ethics Committee (映画倫理規程管理委員会, Eiga Rinri Kitei Kanri Iinkai) was established in 1949 and was the predecessor to Eirin. The organization was criticized for hiring examiners who were part of the same movie industry that financed the organization, resulting in a conflict of interest. There was also criticism of the content of some films which came out at the time, such as Nikkatsu’s Season of the Sun based on the award-winning book by Shintaro Ishihara.
In response to the criticism the Committee began to bring in outsiders (professors, lawyers and teachers) to join the commission in 1956, and reorganized into a self-financing, independent body. At that time it also changed its name to Eirin and is the foundation of today’s rating body.
In 1962, it became mandatory that all films released in Japan had to have a seal from Eirin. The seal appears on the posters starting in 1964.
Early ratings set
From 1976 to May 1, 1998, there were three rating categories:
– General Audiences (一般指定, Ippan Shitei) – Patrons of all ages are admitted.
– Limited General Film (一般映画制限付, Ippan Eiga Seigen-tsuki) – Patrons under 15 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The first Japanese film to use this rating was Ninkyo Gaiden: Genkai Nada (任侠外伝 玄界灘, Ninkyō Gaiden: Genkai Nada, released May 29, 1976) and the first non-Japanese film to use this rating was Snuff (released June 19, 1976), a movie claiming to show actual scenes of homicide.
– Adult Audiences (成人指定, Seijin Shitei) – Only adults are admitted.
Current ratings set
On May 1, 1998, four rating categories were introduced: R15+ and R18+ are restricted categories and it is forbidden to admit an underage patron to a film with a restricted rating as well as rent, sell, or exhibit DVDs/motion picture releases to underage patrons with restricted ratings. Such violations are a criminal offense and strictly enforced.
G: General Audiences. All ages admitted.
PG12 (PG-12): Parental Guidance Requested. Some material may be unsuitable for children under 12. Parents are advised to accompany and give guidance for their children during the film. Films with this rating can influence elementary schoolers. May contain violent content, sexual content, use of drugs as well as underage drinking, smoking or driving. Horror movies usually get this rating.
The R15+ and R18+ ratings are age restricted. All cinemas are legally required to check the age of all patrons who wish to view an R15+ or R18+ rated film. Admitting underage patrons to such films is considered a criminal offense and can be punished with fines/imprisonment.
R15+ (R-15): Restricted to teenagers 15 and over only. Children and pre-teenagers under the age of 15 are banned from viewing the film. Films with this rating are strongly stimulating. May contain bullying, more violent content, more sexual content, more inappropriate language and criminal activity such as the yakuza and crimes of counterfeiting.
R18+ (R-18): Restricted to adults only. Children and teenagers under the age of 18 are banned from viewing the film. Films with this rating are extremely stimulating. May contain glamorization and graphic depiction of violence, explicit sexual activity and glamorization of the use of drugs.
The Eirin Mark
The Eirin Mark is the seal that every theater poster printed after 1964 is required to carry. The Eirin Mark only indicates the year the movie received a classification, but it doesn’t give the date the movie was released in the cinema.
It’s mandatory that the studio gets the approval from the Eirin board before they show the film in the theater, so the theater posters normally carry the Eirin Mark to show that approval. Normally, the mark is placed in the bottom right-hand corner of the movie poster.
Usually, the official movie posters that you can buy at the box office also carry the Eirin Mark. There are some recent official reprints issued by the studios themselves that also carry the Eirin Mark. Some advance posters, B5 posters (“Chirashi”) or posters from some small independent studios don’t put the seal on the poster.
The majority of the time, it will distinguish a promotion/reprint/video poster from an original movie poster, although we have had reports of some those posters also having the mark. That is the case of some video posters, which only print a video sticker over the regular theatre poster, and consequently do not remove the Eirin Mark.
Older posters almost always had the Eirin Mark in a rounded box. But sometime in the 1990’s, some studios started with the circles. I believe it is up to the studio to decide how they display the Eirin Mark as long as it is present on the poster. Eirin Marks have also been getting smaller and smaller and are not easy to detect at all on some modern posters (i.e., in the movie poster for Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, as you may check here).
How to read the Eirin Mark?
To understand the markings on the Eirin mark, you must know how to read the Japanese year.
The calendar system most widely used in Europe is known as the Gregorian Calendar. This sets year 1 as the year in which Christ was born.
In Japan, people counted years according to the reign of an emperor. This custom of reckoning years by eras was adopted in Japan in the seventh century.
From that time until the nineteenth century, the reigning emperor decided when one era ended, and another began. Under the current system, adopted following the ascension of Emperor Meiji in 1868, the era begins on the day an emperor ascends the throne and continues until his death. Thus, the Meiji era began in 1868 and lasted until 1912.
Eirin marks are shown in a variety of ways. Here is an example using the Showa dating:
The majority of posters have the Showa dating. The easiest way to calculate the date is to add 25 to the first 2 digits. Using the sample above, it would be 47 plus 25 which would be 72 (or 1972).
And finally, here’s an Eirin Mark using a western dating that seems to be becoming more popular (and is mostly used in Studio Ghibli’s movie posters):
Simply put, in this system the first two digits correspond to the year in question (72 = 1972).
However, the Eirin Marks of the 2000s movies adopt a slightly different system. Take the following as an example:
In this case, the first two digits correspond to 22. The first digit corresponds to the first number of the year in which the movie got a classification, while the last digit corresponds to the last number of the year in question (22 = 2002).
Different companies in Japan use different systems. Daei, Nikkatsu, and Shochiku studios normally use the Japanese system while Toho and Toei use the western system.
Re-release posters have (are given) a new Eirin number to reflect the re-release year. There are some exceptions where the Eirin numbers were mixed up when the posters were printed and the re-release poster had the same number as the first release.