Unveiling TV’s Excessive Self-Regulation, CG Smoking Scenes in “There is a Limit to Inappropriateness” | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Unveiling TV’s Excessive Self-Regulation, CG Smoking Scenes in “There is a Limit to Inappropriateness”

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“The outrageously inappropriate ‘There is a Limit to Inappropriateness’ is making waves. According to Toshihiko Tabuchi, former producer at TV Tokyo who has long battled internal constraints, now a professor at Ochanomizu University’s Faculty of Arts and Culture, self-regulation by TV stations in dramas and the like is ‘extremely Japanese and rare worldwide,’ disregarding compliance levels.

Remarkably Japanese-style self-regulation, rare even on a global scale.

In the case of the taboo surrounding smoking scenes, even in the audacious There is a Limit to Inappropriateness , all smoking scenes on buses or in classrooms were entirely added using CGI. Smoking was not allowed on set. Clearly, such alterations are easily detectable, so the production team probably didn’t want to resort to them. However, it’s not hard to imagine that various obstacles and tensions were at play.

The production team probably didn’t want to do this, as it was still obviously manipulated. (from TBS program website)

In the last drama I produced for TV Tokyo, “Lawyer Sodom,” smoking restrictions were also enforced. The director expressed a desire to shoot a scene where the lead actor, Sota Fukushi, smokes. However, after reading the script, a certain section within the network conveyed the message, “Please refrain from smoking scenes.” It wasn’t a suggestion to refrain or a request to refrain, but rather an instruction to refrain.

In recent years, it’s well known that tobacco commercials have disappeared from television. This stems from the decision of the Japan Tobacco Industry to voluntarily refrain from tobacco commercials on TV, radio, and the internet starting in 1998. Since “There is a Limit to Inappropriateness” is set in 1986, there are plenty of scenes featuring smoking.

However, when I produced “Kaze no Shonen: Yutaka Ozaki Eien no Densetsu,” an autobiographical drama about Yutaka Ozaki, there was a scene in which Ozaki, a high school student, sat on the road smoking a cigarette, and I had to “wait.


I argued for the necessity of this scene, saying, “Ozaki wouldn’t be Ozaki if he didn’t sit on the roadside and smoke while observing the world with a cat-like gaze.” I managed to obtain approval from the network. However, at that time, I was worried about the future of television, fearing that an overemphasis on compliance (a term not yet common at that time) would gradually undermine the necessity of visual imagery and the creativity of the works.

And now, 24 years later, television commercials related to tobacco are limited to image advertisements that appeal to smoking etiquette. This is solely due to the self-regulation of the entire tobacco industry, including Japan Tobacco Industry. As a consideration for sponsors, television networks are refraining from smoking scenes within programs. This phenomenon can be considered extremely Japanese-style and rare even on a global scale.

Why was the smoking scene ordered to be refrained from?

In the drama “Lawyer Sodom,” a directive came from a certain section within the company to “refrain from smoking scenes” due to concerns about “passive smoking.”

However, there was a valid reason for the smoking scenes requested by the director. The protagonist, who treasures a lighter left by his lawyer mother, is depicted lighting a cigarette. He then picks up a certain piece of paper from his desk (which also holds narrative significance), burns it with the lighter, and drops it into an ashtray, all while staring at the flame. The flame reflected in his eyes represents his desire for revenge

After complaints were received about this scene, various discussions were held among the staff. There were arguments against suggestions like “Why not just film the part where he burns the paper without smoking?” One argument was, “It’s strange for there to be an ashtray in a room where there’s no smoker.” Eventually, it was concluded that it would be most natural for the protagonist to be a smoker. I explained such logic and the thorough deliberation among the staff to the section within the company that raised objections and fought to the end. However, permission was not granted.

Certainly, there is a need to provide relief for the vulnerable and children who unknowingly or unconsciously suffer from passive smoking.

However, for instance, in the NHK drama “Idaten,” which addressed passive smoking as a topic, there should have been an extremely cultural and directorial significance in depicting smoking scenes, as tobacco creates a sense of the times.

How to convey the atmosphere of the time is our fundamental duty as creators. It’s the spirit of professionals to express something through visuals that can no longer be felt today.

Similarly, in the case of Lawyer Sodom, when trying to express the protagonist’s desire for revenge against the person who killed his mother through the device of fire, it is natural for creators to consider utilizing smoking as an active and mysterious factor.

Unable to meet the director’s professional aspirations, I fell into despair for a while due to my own powerlessness. Restricting expressions that creators have thoughtfully crafted to entertain viewers and convey messages violates not only freedom of expression but also viewers’ right to know and right to see.

Shouldn’t measures against passive smoking be devised from aspects such as improving smokers’ morals and educating children?

If expressions of undesirable behavior are restricted, it would mean that scenes depicting murder in dramas or sword fights in historical dramas would also be prohibited. Expression should be as free and diverse as possible. Excessive self-regulation of expression could lead television culture to its demise, and I want to sound the alarm about that.

In the television industry, where there is such a trend, “There is a Limit to Inappropriateness” can be considered a very significant work.


73.9% of the total respondents could tolerate the appearance of smoking scenes in the drama.

The support for this drama can be inferred from the following data. According to the Non-Smokers Awareness Survey released by Net Asia, boasting the number one share in mobile research, in May 2022, the percentage of non-smokers who find it acceptable for smoking scenes to appear as part of the direction in television dramas and movies (combining those who find it acceptable and somewhat acceptable) was 73.9% of the total.

In contrast, only 26.1% of respondents believed that it is not good for smoking scenes to appear as part of the direction in television dramas and movies, and that they should be refrained from. Additionally, in a survey conducted by Oricon in 2015 targeting men and women aged 10 to 50 regarding self-regulation, 44.4% of respondents answered that the current regulations are reasonable, while 55.6% stated they are not reasonable, albeit by a small margin.

This data indicates that there are many viewers who question the trend of excessive self-regulation. “Beyond Inappropriate” skillfully tapped into such viewer sentiment.

Compliance serves as a limiter under the guise of a noble cause. Television stations impose self-regulation under the pretext of compliance, effectively absolving themselves of responsibility. Compliance is a convenient “device” for television stations to shift blame.

Even at this moment, the creators of There is a Limit to Inappropriateness are likely battling with the upper management and various departments within the network, who may come up with unreasonable demands. Despite such friction, I hope they continue to send their works into the world with conviction. I’m rooting for them.

Toshihiko Tabuchi’s book “New TV Theory in the Age of Chaos” (Poplar Shinsho 252) is available for purchase here.

  • Text Toshihiko Tabuchi

    Professor of Visual Arts at J. F. Oberlin University. Born in Hyogo Prefecture in 1964. After graduating from the Faculty of Law at Keio University, he joined TV Tokyo. He has produced documentaries on unexplored regions of the world, and has visited more than 100 countries. On the other hand, he has also been actively involved in the production of social documentaries, tackling difficult issues such as the "United Red Army," "Elderly First Offenders," and "Stalking Perpetrators. He has also produced numerous drama productions. He retired from TV Tokyo in March 2011. His books include "New TV Theory in an Age of Chaos," "Victory Learning from the Weak: The Secret of TV TOKYO's 'Reverse Thinking' to Turn Disadvantageous Conditions into Strength," "Developmental Disabilities and Juvenile Crime," "Stalking Assailants: Please Run Away from Me," and "Learning from Unexplored Places: The Shape of Happiness. He is a regular member of the Japan Writer's Association, a regular member of the Japanese Society of Imaging Arts and Sciences, a regular member of the Japan Society of Arts and Sciences, and a regular member of the Japan Food Service Society. He founded 35 Produce Inc., which disseminates a variety of information through video.


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