Watch Akira Kurosawa & Francis Ford Coppola in Japanese Whiskey Ads from 1979: The Inspiration for Lost in Translation

Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la wasn’t the first or last West­ern celebri­ty to hawk booze in a Japan­ese com­mer­cial, but if you’re look­ing for the seed that sprout­ed into the fun­ni­est scene in his daugh­ter Sophi­a’s Lost in Trans­la­tion, here are the series of five ads in all their glo­ry, in which the direc­tor shares a glass with one of his idols, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa.

The year is 1979, and Cop­po­la is deep in post-pro­duc­tion for Apoc­a­lypse Now. While he is strug­gling with reels and reels from a trou­bled pro­duc­tion, Aki­ra Kuro­sawa, despite his stature in the world of cin­e­ma, is strug­gling with finances. His two films of the 1970s, Dodeskaden and Der­su Uza­la, had been flops, despite some crit­i­cal acclaim. At some point he had been so despon­dent won­der­ing if he’d ever direct again, he had attempt­ed sui­cide and was a heavy drinker.

But George Lucas and Cop­po­la, learn­ing of the direc­tor’s sad con­di­tion, con­vinced 20th Cen­tu­ry Fox to put up the mon­ey for Kage­musha: The Shad­ow War­rior, Kurosawa’s return to the samu­rai films of his clas­sic peri­od. At the same time, Cop­po­la agreed to be in a com­mer­cial for Sun­to­ry Whiskey along­side Kurosawa–who had shot some ads for them in 1976–just to get the direc­tor some more mon­ey. (Kurosawa’s fee was $30,000. And Cop­po­la didn’t drink.)

For Sun­to­ry, the old­est dis­till­ing com­pa­ny in Japan, this meet­ing of East and West was a metaphor for their desire to break into the West­ern whiskey mar­ket. Using Amer­i­can celebri­ties like Sam­my Davis Jr. estab­lished authen­tic­i­ty in the mind of the Japan­ese con­sumer, but this was a new lev­el of pres­tige.

The series of ads above also show glimpses of Kuro­sawa in the midst of film­ing Kage­musha, shoot­ing epic bat­tles fea­tur­ing samu­rai on horse­back. The voice over is unsur­pris­ing­ly (for this sophis­ti­cat­ed mar­ket) pre­ten­tious:

“The world’s gaze is fixed on these two men right now as on nobody else. There’s no stronger friend­ship than that between these two men.” (The impact of that trans­la­tion, you could say, is lost.)

Unlike Bill Murray’s char­ac­ter in Sophia Cop­po­la’s film, Fran­cis Ford Cop­po­la real­ly didn’t have to do much except show up, but no doubt the expe­ri­ence was re-told many times to his daugh­ter over the years. And after the come­back of Kage­musha, Kuro­sawa went on to direct one of his best films, the King Lear-inspired Ran.

We’ll raise a glass to that.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Best Japan­ese Com­mer­cial Ever? James Brown Sells Miso Soup

David Lynch Directs a Mini-Sea­son of Twin Peaks in the Form of Japan­ese Cof­fee Com­mer­cials

David Bowie Sells Ice Cream, Sake, Coke & Water: Watch His TV Com­mer­cials from the 1960s Through 2013

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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