The Supreme Court decided Tuesday to hold an appeal hearing over a damages suit filed by a Tokyo businessman who was not allowed to bring into the country a book of photos containing some showing male genitals, a move that suggests it is likely to revise a lower court ruling that said blocking the import is legal.
In filing the suit, Tokyo publishing house President Takashi Asai has demanded the court rule the seizure of the book invalid and sought 2.2 million yen ($20,000) in damages. The book of photos by renowned American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe had been published for sale in Japan.The top court holds a session to hear arguments from the parties concerned when it decides whether to revise a lower court ruling. The hearing will be on Jan. 22 next year at the court’s No. 3 petty bench.According to the Tokyo High Court ruling, Asai published the late Mapplethorpe’s photo collection in Japan in 1994. In 1999, he went to the United States with the book and later returned to Japan but it was seized by customs officials at Narita airport.The Tokyo District Court ruled that the import ban on the book should be retracted and ordered the government to pay 700,000 yen ($6,300) in damages to Asai, saying the book had already been published as a work of art in Japan and would have no effect on public morals.The Tokyo High Court overturned the ruling, saying the book “unnecessarily provokes sexual appetite and is an obscene graphic work that goes against a sense of morals on sexuality.”In a similar lawsuit filed by Asai over another Mapplethorpe book, the Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that it is legal for customs inspectors to ban the import of a photo collection, acknowledging that the collection could be deemed obscene.Two of the five justices presented the dissenting view that it is illegal, and effectively constitutes censorship, for customs staff to unilaterally inspect books and other materials on which views may be divided. Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.