Fist of the North Star (partially lost original uncensored version of anime film; 1986)

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This article has been tagged as Needing work due to its lack of organization.


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This article has been tagged as NSFW due to its excessive violence.



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Still from the theatrical trailer, showing a scene that was censored in later varitions of the film.

Status: Partially Lost


Hokuto no Ken (北斗の拳, "Fist of the Big Dipper"), known to English audiences as Fist of the North Star, was a Japanese comic book that was serialized from 1983 to 1988. Spanning 245 chapters in 27 volumes, the series told the story of Kenshiro, a martial artist who wanders a post-apocalyptic Earth while fighting those who oppress what is left of humankind, as he faces a continuing battle to maintain his status as the successor of the Hokuto Shinken assassination art.

The manga became incredibly famous and is credited with pioneering the fighting genre in Japanese media, so it's no surprise that it has received numerous adaptations over the years, most notably a 152-episode animated television series by Toei Animation that ran from 1984 to 1988 in Japan. Because the manga's excessive violence was deemed unsuitable for Japanese television at the time (due to the lack of a late-night slot for adult content), Toei used various forms of censorship to keep the show TV appropriate, with many of these techniques being used for Toei's other works such as Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon. In 1986, Toei released a movie adaptation of the manga's first few arcs as a way to further promote the TV show, reusing the latter's art direction and voice cast. This release took major liberties with the manga's plot, mainly in terms of the order of events, how they unfold, and the roles of the story's characters. One other major difference was that the film retained the manga's ultraviolence, with the animators carefully studying human anatomy in order to make the gore as realistic as possible (albeit within the parameters of the somewhat fantastic nature of the manga's martial arts).

Censorship and Other Alterations

At some point, Toei Animation was forced to heavily censor the movie's content following large amounts of complaints surrounding its graphic imagery; while initially coming from moral guardians, these protests managed to reach the Diet of Japan, who personally contacted Toei and forced them to edit the film. Many instances of gore were either blurred, heavily tinted, or (in one case) replaced with a discretion cut. Unlike the TV series's censorship, which was present from the outset, the film's modifications were done in post. For the home media release, they also heavily modified the outcome of the final battle, when Lin interrupts the battle before Raoh can kill Kenshiro, at the request of the film's director (in the theatrical release, Kenshiro is knocked unconscious before Raoh attempts to finish him off and is interrupted; both warriors are conscious in the home media release).

Disappearance of the Uncensored Version

While both endings have been made available to the public over the years, the definitive theatrical release has never resurfaced, and it is rumoured that Toei had destroyed its old master prints. However, this is currently unconfirmed; Toei has never made any official statements on the matter.

There are also conflicting accounts as to when exactly the film's censorship occurred. While it is often believed that the film was uncensored during its 1986 theatrical cut and edited for the VHS and LaserDisc release, several accounts from individuals who claim to have seen the film in theaters during the initial 1986 run attest that the censorship was present in the theatrical version from the beginning. Again, the lack of any official statements from Toei leaves the veracity of these accounts uncertain.

Recoveries

Note that despite the film's heavy censorship, a noticeable majority of its gore remains uncensored (most notably Jagi's death); aside from those that feature bloodshed only, these scenes occur very rapidly and are not entirely discernible due to their length, despite most of the film's censored scenes meeting the same criteria. Furthermore, the blur effects used for most altered scenes do not mask all of their gore, with numerous blurred scenes still containing enough visible entrails to give viewers an idea of how they were originally animated. Given that the film's censorship is identical in all re-releases of the film (save for the Italian VHS release, as noted below), it is unknown why it was altered in such a selective manner.

Some Italian VHS releases of the film (as well as certain trailers) contain uncensored versions of several gore scenes in the film, all of which have been uploaded to YouTube. Given the two conflicting claims about the timing of the film's censorship, this particular VHS release was based on either an unfinished edit of the theatrical version or an intermediate draft between the workprint and the final cut. Additionally, at least one scene that was censored in the film can be found unedited in a theatrical trailer for it. Out of all the scenes that were censored, the currently recovered ones are as follows:

Scene Censorship Uncensored source
Shin brands Kenshiro with his signature Ursa Major scar pattern by ramming his fingers into Kenshiro's chest. Tinted blue. Italian VHS
After a thug is hit with Kenshiro's Hokuto Shinken technique, he falls to the ground in front of Bat. Suddenly, his head explodes, and his neck stump sprays blood onto a terrified Bat while the corpse shoots upright and violently twitches. Tinted gray. Italian VHS
During Raoh's procession as the self-proclaimed Ken-Oh (King of the Fist), Galf (the procession director) crushes a man's head for chanting off-tempo. The death footage itself is replaced with a discretionary landscape shot. Italian VHS
Rei cleaves a thug's head in five pieces using his Nanto Suicho Ken (South Star Swan Fist) technique. Blurred Theatrical Trailer

In mid-2015, the Charles Theater in Baltimore, Maryland, made a post on their official site claiming that they would be screening the film's definitive cut on September 23 of that year. Though the date of this post is no longer known (as it was taken down after the film's screening), forum posts on Crunchyroll and IGN regarding the showing date back as early as August 10. In a response to a Facebook user by the name of Joe Hostage, the theater claimed that they had acquired an unaltered print that was originally used as a master for American retail releases, which seems to indicate that the film's censorship was applied after the 1986 theatrical premiere and that claims of it being censored in theaters from the start are false. However, no footage of this screening is known to have surfaced online, and no one has verified whether or not the theater's copy had any noticeable differences from the home releases in regards to censorship.

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