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High and Low

January 4, 2010

Last night, I watched a Kurosawa film, “High and Low,” in which the most violent scene was of two boys playing Old West outlaws. Yet the film is an intense drama of kidnapping, police work, relationships, and character. And probably not for children.

Over the holidays, I got a letter from a ten-year-old girl asking me to reconsider the G-rating on the John Wayne movie “True Grit.” It was much more violent than she’d expected, with torture, murder, and hangings.

I told her I would review our copy to make sure it was the version that had earned the G-rating; however, I would not view the film with an eye toward rating it.

We use rating stickers on our video collection as a guide for patrons selecting movies. Library staff does not rate content. The ratings come from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which provides a rating system for film producers.

The program is voluntary. Not all films seek ratings. Not all movie theaters abide by the guidelines when selling tickets to audiences.

In the library’s collection, we apply the rating stickers when we find an MPAA rating, and we apply no stickers when we do not. An unrated film may be fine for children and grandmas or not.

The absence of a sticker simply means we could not verify an MPAA rating (which is easily done on their website).

Rating stickers differ from the genre stickers on our fiction books, e.g. Mystery or Science Fiction, in that they presume to comment on the appropriateness of content.

A G-rating is for general audiences, the most child-friendly rating, and yet clearly G still covers a range of content that will dismay some viewers.

Other rating information is available on the Internet, such as and (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops).

Both of these appear along with many others at the directory

A website I use for all kinds of movie information is Internet Movie Database On each film’s information page is a section “Additional Details” that includes a Parent’s Guide as well as a collection of Certifications, or ratings.

“True Grit” has a G-rating in the U.S., but ratings for minimum viewing age vary from 12 in West Germany and Iceland to 16 in Finland.

When our copy of “True Grit” comes back, I’ll see if I can determine the version of the movie included. “True Grit” originally received an M-rating, for Mature Audiences, under the old rating system, but then was re-edited to get the G-rating under the current system.

Current DVD releases of new and old films often contain alternative versions, such as a “Director’s Cut.” These may or may not have a rating, and may or may not be fit to retain the rating of the original theater release.

Such information is not always evident to us when cataloging new materials for the library. Packaging and marketing are rarely done with libraries in mind or, frankly, with user convenience in mind.

The Kurosawa scene of the boys in cowboy hats shooting each other was actually quite shocking in the context of the film, and context is what makes rating content so difficult.

The IMDB Parents Guide for “High and Low” includes comments such as: “the drug sequence is very disturbing” and “ a lot of intense and emotional scenes.”

Which is true (although the drug scene is more surreal than real), and yet the most overtly violent scene would pass virtually without comment in most American living rooms, since it was, as we willingly accept, merely boys being boys.


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One Comment
  1. Vicky Lin permalink

    Dear Jeff:

    As a student in Taiwan, I used to be a movie-goer, almost watching movie every week.

    In middle school, I watched a movie titled “splendor in the grass”; the actress and actor are Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty, as well as the background happened in Great Recession. I still remember one of the scenes, the teacher asked Natalie Wood to recite the verses of Intimations of Immortality of William Wordsworth …

    What though the radiance which was once so bright
    Be now for ever taken from my sight,
    Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind …

    While sitting in the theater, I was charmed with the beautiful verses; instantly, I was falling in love with the poems of William Wordsworth which becomes my accompaniment, wherever I go.

    In my life journey, whenever I fall, I always think of the verses — We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind …

    At present, the whole country has been in economic recession for over three years; a lot of people are struggling for a living, or some other things; again I would like to share the verses with those people — We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind.

    May God bless America!


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