Woody Allen Lives the “Delicious Life” in Early-80s Japanese Commercials

Some­times I think the only real advan­tage of Amer­i­can celebri­ty would be the offers to act in Japan­ese tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured James Brown pitch­ing Nissin noo­dles, Har­ri­son Ford’s Japan­ese-speak­ing spots for Kirin Beer remain beloved pop-cul­tur­al arti­facts, and evi­dent­ly Jodie Fos­ter sends cos­met­ics and cof­fee fly­ing off the shelves. Sofia Cop­po­la even built her film Lost in Trans­la­tion around a Hol­ly­wood actor, por­trayed with unfor­get­table res­ig­na­tion by Bill Mur­ray, vis­it­ing Tokyo to shoot a Sun­to­ry Whisky ad. Above you’ll find a series of com­mer­cials from the ear­ly eight­ies for the Japan­ese depart­ment store Seibu, fea­tur­ing none oth­er than Woody Allen. He arranges his desk, paints cal­lig­ra­phy, winc­ing­ly receives some kind of mox­i­bus­tion treat­ment, and makes a pur­chase from a vend­ing machine embla­zoned with a pic­ture of him­self, all while a singer (as far as my lim­it­ed Japan­ese allows me to under­stand) rat­tles off a list of durable and edi­ble goods.

When these spots first aired, many Japan­ese view­ers did­n’t rec­og­nize Allen. Accord­ing to a con­tem­po­rary Lake­land Ledger arti­cle, Seibu’s mar­keters planned it that way, intend­ing to intro­duce him to Japan them­selves as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their sen­si­bil­i­ty : “Respond­ing to the decline in the youth mar­ket, Seibu want­ed the store rep­re­sent­ed by ‘an adult’ [ … ] With his mul­ti­ple tal­ents, Mr. Allen seemed ide­al to per­son­i­fy Seibu’s mul­ti­ple fea­tures.” In each of these clips, Allen presents (and the singer sings) the Japan­ese phrase “おいしい生活,” which I read as “deli­cious life,” which the Ledger arti­cle trans­lates as “taste­ful life,” and which one YouTube com­menter trans­lates as “deli­cious lifestyle.” (“The sweet life” might con­vey a sim­i­lar idea.) For evi­dence of this cam­paign’s cul­tur­al impact, look no fur­ther than Japan’s title for the Woody Allen film, released near­ly twen­ty years lat­er, that we know as Small Time Crooksおいしい生活. Woody, you’ve done Lon­don, you’ve done Barcelona, you’ve done Paris, you’ve done Rome — has­n’t the time come to take your cam­era to Tokyo?

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Best Japan­ese Com­mer­cial Ever? James Brown Sells Miso Soup

Woody Allen on The Dick Cavett Show Cir­ca 1970

David Lynch’s Sur­re­al Com­mer­cials

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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