American movie stars have long found work across the pacific in Japanese television commercials: Nicolas Cage, Paul Newman, Dennis Hopper, Harrison Ford, Jodie Foster — the list goes on. If their spots aired stateside, we’d probably buy what they sell too, but celebrities in their image-protective league have thus far shown a reluctance to endorse products in their own country. Japan’s ad industry hasn’t only sought the participation of America’s big-name actors, though; it’s also gone after the directors. At the top, you’ll see one featuring a filmmaker never afraid of exposure: Pulp Fiction auteur Quentin Tarantino taking a turn in local costume (and alongside a talking dog) in a commercial for Japanese cell phone service provider Softbank. Just below, we have Orson Welles, he of Citizen Kane and British frozen-peas narration alike, in a spot for G&G Whisky.
“I direct films and act in them,” Welles says by way of introduction. “What we’re always trying for is perfection, but of course, that’s only a hope. But with G&G, you can rely on it.” It may put you in the mind of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, wherein Bill Murray’s character famously turns up in Japan to shoot a whisky commercial of his own. Makers of that beverage have shown quite an interest in the imprimatur of cinema’s luminaries, Eastern as well as Western.
We’ve previously featured a Suntory commercial including not just The Gofather and Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola, but Akira Kurosawa, the maker of Rashomon and Seven Samurai, known in his homeland as “the Emperor.” It makes you wonder: do we in America know our directors well enough that they could sell us things? Then again, the Japanese did enjoy all those old Woody Allen Seibu spots when most of them still hadn’t a clue about the beloved filmmaker’s identity.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.