This ‘The Simpsons’ Episode Is Considered So Offensive, It Was Banned Overseas

The Big Picture

  • Controversial episodes of The Simpsons often involve broad depictions of different countries and their culture.
  • The Season 10 finale, “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” was never aired in Japan due to its offensive depiction of the emperor of Japan.
  • The show’s later episodes in the 2000s focused on cheap laughs by treating foreign countries with non-white populations as punchlines.

The Simpsons has been around for over three decades. Naturally, for any show that garners pop culture notoriety over such an elongated period of time, that yellow family from Springfield has garnered its fair share of controversy over the years. When The Simpsons first started airing, in a world before Rick & Morty and other adult animated programs, the very existence of Bart Simpson was considered something tantamount to sacrilege. This was a kid who talked back to his parents! How rowdy! As the years went on, The Simpsons would garner criticism for other elements, like a joke that was misconstrued or an episode that didn’t sit right with certain audience members.

Many of these episodes that have become especially controversial tend to involve the lead characters going overseas to some recognizable country and getting into wacky antics there. Typically, such episodes tend to involve very broad depictions of various countries and their inhabitants, which can get into slightly thorny territory when the country is largely dominated by non-white citizens. Suddenly, the jokes go from being zany to feeling like they’re mocking cultures and people that aren’t white or European. An episode that especially caused controversy was the Season 10 finale “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo,” which took the Simpsons family to Tokyo, Japan. The episode never aired in Japan and a handful of other international territories.

What Is “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo?”

Image via Fox

Per the audio commentary for “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” on The Simpsons: The Complete 10th Season DVD boxset, “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” became one of only two Simpsons episodes to never hit the airwaves in Japan, as well as countries like China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, because of its depiction of the then-emperor of Japan getting hurled into a box of sumo thongs. What on paper may have sounded like a cartoonish sight gag (and a continuation of The Simpsons taking world leaders down a peg) was perceived as being incredibly offensive and ensured the episode would never air in certain international territories.

It’s doubtful any other element of the episode would’ve gone over highly positively with Japanese viewers, given that the rest of the episode focuses on pretty basic parodies of Japanese game shows and a fish-gutting factory. This isn’t one of director Jim Reardon‘s strongest The Simpsons outings and shifting the action to Japan didn’t inspire much imaginative comedy from the show’s writers. Whereas previous forays into international countries, like “Bart vs. Australia,” had inspired some real comedic lunacy amusing detached from reality, “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” was a bunch of easy gags about Japanese culture that had been done to death elsewhere, unfortunately.

Interestingly, this wouldn’t be the last time The Simpsons would be banned from the airwaves of Japanese television. A year later, the Season 11 episode “Little Big Mom” would also get plucked from airing in this country because of its depiction of leprosy. Though the show was taking a very light-hearted approach to leprosy with this story, the history of leprosy in the country of Japan was fraught with so many political ramifications that “Little Big Mom” never made it onto the Japanese airwaves.

“Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” Ushered in a New Era of ‘The Simpsons’

The Simpsons sitting around the TV
Image via Fox

In hindsight, the trouble The Simpsons got into with “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” was a direct precursor to later controversial episodes of The Simpsons that got into trouble with international cultures. Most notably, the Season 13 episode “Blame It on Lisa” sent the titular family down to Brazil and found the country teeming with monkeys, seedy criminals, and other horrific elements. The episode’s vision of this South American country garnered an enormous outrage from the country of Brazil that made the uproar over “Bart vs. Australia” look like a minor kerfuffle.

This episode, as well as later Simpsons episodes from the 2000s like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore,” are centered on getting cheap laughs by treating foreign countries with largely non-white populations as immediate punchlines and poverty-stricken hellholes. Compare the treatment of Brazil or India or even Japan to the posh treatment of Britain in Season 15’s “The Regina Monologues.” Here, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair shows up to greet the Simpsons family as they arrive in the United Kingdom while J.K. Rowling, Ian McKellen, and Jane Leeves all get to appear as either themselves or fictional characters throughout the episode. While potshots are taken at various aspects of U.K. culture, the Simpsons are mostly in awe of this territory and plenty of figureheads from these countries are around to advocate for how “cool” the United Kingdom is.

RELATED: This Is the Most Romantic Moment in ‘The Simpsons’

The disparity between how these countries are treated in Seasons 10-18 of The Simpsons reflects how this shows 2000s comedic aesthetic leaned heavier towards being “edgier” and trying to capture the kind of comedy dominating more modern animated programs like South Park and Family Guy. What better way to ingratiate The Simpsons to fans of Stewie Griffin than to make episodes dedicated to how “weird” Tokyo, Japan, and Brazil were? This was even reflected in the show’s more brutal and crueler attitude towards queer people in this era of the show. Whereas in Season 6, Homer Simpson has been quite nonchalant about wandering into a lesbian bar, Season 17 featured an episode in which Bartman’s exploits involve a “transvestite” version of Lenny getting brutally shot to death just off-screen. It was all very “edgy,” but it wasn’t very funny and betrayed the emphasis on solidly crafted gags that defined the earliest episodes of The Simpsons.

With the benefit of hindsight, “Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” was an unfortunate harbinger of the show’s future in the 2000s. A new era of The Simpsons was dawning and throwing the emperor of Japan into a collection of sumo thongs would soon look like chump change compared to the other ways this program tried to prove it could still shock viewers. Rather than taking the characters of The Simpsons into unexpected directions or embracing truly inspired new forms of comedy, unfortunately, this incredibly important TV show opted to reaffirm its relevance by constantly delivering episodes that took caricatured views of foreign cultures.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *