Nicolas Cage, Paul Newman & Dennis Hopper Bring Their American Style to Japanese Commercials

West­ern­ers who grew inter­est­ed in Japan dur­ing the past 30 years will remem­ber one point of ear­ly con­tact with the cul­ture: Japan­ese com­mer­cials. Tele­vi­sion adver­tise­ments from the Land of the Ris­ing Sun have long offered the rest of the world a source of uncom­pre­hend­ing aston­ish­ment and mys­ti­fied laugh­ter. What a weird place Japan is, many must think to them­selves as they gaze upon spots involv­ing danc­ing dogs and salty snacks or brush fire and high blood-pres­sure tea. But as for­eign observers tend to dis­cov­er — and as I have had recon­firmed while vis­it­ing the coun­try for the past week — Japan may have many qual­i­ties, but pure weird­ness isn’t among them. Arti­facts that strike the rest of us as weird emerge accord­ing to log­ic, albeit a log­ic of their own. This goes dou­ble for the most prized Japan­ese com­mer­cials of the bunch: those star­ring Amer­i­can celebri­ties.

Here on Open Cul­ture, we’ve fea­tured Woody Allen for Seibu and James Brown for Nissin. Please enjoy, at the very top of this post, the eccen­tric Nico­las Cage play­ing his Amer­i­can-ness to the very hilt. When pachinko machine man­u­fac­tur­er Sankyo recruit­ed Cage, they went all-out, get­ting him square-danc­ing in the mid­dle of a lone­ly south­west­ern high­way with a pack of met­al ball-head­ed aliens. Right above, we have Paul New­man flash­ing a smile and point­ing his fin­ger not once, but two times, in a 1980 com­mer­cial for Maxwell House. And speak­ing of eccen­tric­i­ty, below you’ll find per­haps the most oblique exam­ple of the Amer­i­can actor-star­ring Japan­ese com­mer­cial I’ve ever come across: Den­nis Hop­per for Tsumu­ra. Sofia Cop­po­la sat­i­rized all of this, of course, in Lost in Trans­la­tion, but the exchange of Japan­ese cor­po­rate mon­ey for a dose of dev­il-may-care Amer­i­can panache could hard­ly make bet­ter busi­ness sense.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Jean-Luc Godard’s After-Shave Com­mer­cial for Schick

Ing­mar Bergman’s Soap Com­mer­cials Wash Away the Exis­ten­tial Despair

Fellini’s Fan­tas­tic TV Com­mer­cials

Wes Anderson’s New Com­mer­cials Sell the Hyundai Azera

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

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