'Tsotsi' screening targets Japan youths


TOKYO -- Film distributor Nikkatsu Co. has defied Japan's movie ratings board by screening 2006 foreign-language Oscar winner "Tsotsi" to a group of teenagers under age 15.

The Administrative Commission of the Motion Pictures Code of Ethics has set the minimum age for the South African drama at 15 on the grounds that the movie shows "scenes of senseless violence, such as one in which minors use guns and ice picks to kill and hurt people."

Nikkatsu disagreed with the decision and gave a special preview Saturday, one week ahead of the film's general release in Japan.

"We believe that these days there are many Japanese kids, especially those aged between 12 and 14, who can't find the importance of 'life' in modern-day Japan," said Atsuko Murata, a spokeswoman for the distributor. "We believe this film has a strong message for those young people and can show them what a wonderful thing life is."

"The scenes of violence in the film are not simply meaningless violence that give an audience unplesant impressions," she added. "They are an expression of how Tsotsi can reclaim his life and find a better way of living. That is why we believe it will not have a negative impact on a younger audience."

The release of the movie coincides with widespread concern in Japanese society about an increase in violence, crime and suicide among young people, which the authorities have been unable to stem.

After the screening, 93 people -- 72 of them teenagers -- completed questionnaires that Nikkatsu plans to submit to the commission to support its request that the age limit be reduced from R-15.

"Most of them had positive impressions and said they did not feel there was too much violence," Murata said. "One of them even wrote that he learned how violence is sad and meaningless."

Supported by Amnesty International Japan, "Tsotsi" tells the story of a teenager who survives in the slums of Johannesburg by stealing but undergoes a change of heart when he takes responsibilty for a baby after a botched car-jacking.

The film received a similar rating for violence in Sweden and the U.K. In the U.S., children under 17 are required to be accompanied by an adult.

"The movie is of a global subject, it is a touching story and has won an academy award," Murata said. "We believe it will prove to be a very popular film in Japan."