Fist of the North Star (partially lost original uncensored version of anime film; 1986)
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 anime based on the manga of the same name. The anime which had 152 episodes ran from 1984-1988 in Japan and was produced by Toei Animation. Because the manga's excessive violence was deemed unsuitable for Japanese television at the time, the series was censored. Many of the original uncensored versions of the anime made their way to international broadcasts, but much of the uncensored anime remains lost.
As Toei Animation could not find a late-night time slot to air Fists of the North Star, Toei opted to use various forms of censorship to keep the show TV appropriate, often times resorting to silhouettes and recolouring blood. In 1986, Toei released a loose theatrical adaptation of the manga's first few arcs as a way to further promote the TV show, reusing the latter's art direction and a majority of the voice cast. 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).
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 Hokuto Shinken, an ancient Chinese assassination art, and perhaps one day find his lost love, Yuria.
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 Japanese home video 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; this is the ending used in foreign language versions).
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 rumored that Toei had either destroyed its old master prints or simply lost them. 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 censorship was present in the theatrical release from the beginning. Again, the lack of any official statements from Toei leaves the veracity of these accounts uncertain.
Despite the film's 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 Ken il Guerriero, 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:
|Shin brands Kenshiro with his signature Ursa Major scar pattern by ramming his fingers into Kenshiro's chest.
|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.
|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.
|Rei cleaves a thug's head in five pieces using his Nanto Suichoken (South Star Swan Fist) technique.
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.
- Compilation of most available uncensored footage
- Comparison between the available uncensored footage and the censorship seen in the home media releases
- Fan edit of the film's English dub that re-inserts the surviving uncensored footage
- Fan edit of the film's Japanese dub that re-inserts the surviving uncensored footage