It's a poorly kept secret that American celebrities occasionally head over to Japan to hawk products in return for big bucks. And who can blame them? Easy money for not a lot of work? I'm guessing most, if not all of us would jump at the chance to do something like this. I know I would (hint to all you rich Japanese executives that need a "typical" American blogger to be the next face of your product).
That being said...
These spots can still be great fodder for awkwardness, looniness, and absurdity. For the past day I have waded through the muck and mire of U.S. celebrities endorsing Japanese products, and I'm truly at a loss to explain what is going on in some of these spots. Which only make them better. So, thanks in large part to Japander.com, which indexes many of these ads, I have compiled what I think are the top 21 celebrities hawking Japanese products, and have included evidence for each one. Why 21? Because that's the fewest I could narrow it down to. Please enjoy the videos I've chosen...
#21. John Travolta
Obviously done right around the time The Experts came out, Travolta doesn't do much to sell this Japanese drink, other than dance around like a poor man's Kevin Bacon and say something in Japanese. You can also see the genesis of some of the classic dance moves he later employed in the Pulp Fiction dance scene. And here I thought that was all Tarantino's direction.
#20. Kyle McLachlan
2 ads for the Subaru Imprezza that utilize both Kyle McLachlan's sex appeal(?) and quirkiness. I'm 65% sure the man being thrown into the pile of boxes that starts off this youtube video is unrelated to the commercials. Of course, I can't explain McLachlan's actions - and it is possible the man falling into the boxes had previously been fighting Kyle, which led him to buy a Subaru. It's a little confusing. Of course it's "See Spot Run" compared to other Japanese commercials, so I'm not going to sweat it.
#19. Michael Jackson
Back when Micahel Jackson was normal, he chose to market his image and music for Suzuki Scooters. Great song, great dancing, amplified by the fact that the female model appears to have gotten her dance techniques watching video of people having gran mal seizures. I also enjoy the "wink" Mike tries when telling us "love is his message." It's one eye for wink, two eyes for blink, Mr. Jackson. Apparently, Japanese directors don't like second takes.
#18. Britney Spears
Sure, Britney looks sexy here, dressed as a an extra from the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode where Buck travels to a future go go bar, does something anachronistic yet still mildly sexy and beds 11 future-garbed dancers (ok so that episode happened in my head), but the music choice is really uninspired. I even thought I saw a faint glimmer of train wreck recognition flash through Britney's eyes during this one. When Britney recognizes something's wrong, it's time to reevaluate. It's definitely not the music I would have picked when I had "futuristic whore Britney" dolled up and ready to sell my Go Go Tea.
#17. Charlie Sheen
I'm not sure it's possible for Sheen to look more uncomfortable in this bed. On the bright side, his hair looks perfect. I'm also not sure what he's selling. It's set up as though it's air conditioning, with everyone in the apartment complex uncomfortable, but then what's with the the woman hogging the covers? Is it because it's too cold? And for that matter, what's with pairing Sheen up with such a homely actress?
#16. Anthony Hopkins
I can hear the phone conversation now...
Japanese Executive: I have this great idea for a commercial, and we need you.
Sir Anthony Hopkins: While I'm flattered, I just don't think I'm comfortable endorsing your product.
Japanese Executive: Just wait, you're going to love this -
Sir Anthony Hopkins: Look, I'm a knight. I'm an Oscar winner. I'm
Japanese Executive: It starts with you and 2 beautiful models riding in a car, and then 3 of you walk arm in arm to a waiting private jet...
Sir Anthony Hopkins: I'm listening...
#15. Natalie Portman
Starts off normal enough (as normal as Japanese commercial can be) with Ms. Portman showing up to an audition on a motorcycle. Walking into the room, she pulls out a fencing epee, dances around a little bit and then somehow teleports to some Spanish villa to commence in a duel with the guy who dresses up as Captain Jack Sparrow at Disney sponsored corporate events. She finds herself back in the audition suddenly, shares a look with the head guy there - the kind of look two people share after licking faces in the coat check room of a swanky bar while their spouses remain oblivious seated at their table - and gets the part. I assume her nailing the audition had a lot to do with using Lux Super Rich Shampoo in her morning shower, though I bet the whole come hither stare didn't hurt her chances - or the skin tight outfit she chose to wear.
#14. Ben Stiller
Looking exactly like a Japanese anime character, Ben Stiller somehow builds upon his trademarked manic performance to "comic" effect. Seriously, if the Japanese were to remake Cool World, Ben Stiller would be perfect in the role of "cartoon-guy-who-becomes-real" that is supposed to be the Japanese manga representation. (I'm not sure if I should be proud or ashamed for making a Cool World reference.) Also, check out the size difference between Stiller and the football players at the end. Is he on his knees?
#13. Harrison Ford
Harry does his best Marcel Marceau impression, if Marcel Marceau hung out with Japanese people in saunas and also spoke during his performances. I do give Ford a lot of credit though for speaking Japanese throughout the commercial.
#12. Jean Claude Van Damme
Here's a series of 4 vignettes that tell the story of Black Black, a gum product that gives you an extra boost of energy. In the first two, we find a groggy Van Damme, who just can't seem to stay awake on his feet. But with Black Black's crystal meth like boost of energy, he has the strength to do some flying kicks. Realizing he could probably make a lot of money hooking people on to this wonderful productthe next vignette finds Van Damme speeding down the road to catch up with a sleepy truck driver in need of a boost of energy. Not done playing the part of the Pusherman, Van Damme slyly offers some Black Black to his limo driver on the night of what is obviously the premiere of Sudden Death, who then proceeds to speed off down the street, throwing Van Damme and his lovely lady friend to the floor of his car (probably Van Damme's plan all along). This all happens while a Japanese cover of Burning Down the House is playing (at least is really really sounds like it). And this is only #12 on the list!
#11. Sylvester Stallone
I'm not sure where to begin. The connection any of these activities have to pork products (ham, sausage) is tenuous at best. I mean, when you see Sylvester Stallone playing the cello, do you think it's time for ham?
I am mildly curious about what kinda of symbolism bicyclists-turning-into-a-waterfall-of-sausages is supposed to signify.
#10. Steven Seagal
This commercial proves there is still truth in advertising. I can totally believe Steven Seagal would get winded after cracking some bad guys' skulls. I can also totally believe he would rock a sleeveless Hawaiian shirt while downing an energy drink.
#9. Hulk Hogan
The same culture that is kicking our ass producing affordable electronics is the same one that saw Hulk Hogan in the 80s and thought it he had a singing voice good enough to sell...I don't know, an air filtration system? Who can pay attention to the product while the Hulkster is wearing those freakishly mesmerizing white shorts? Unrelated, the baby comes out of nowhere, doesn't it? Not sure the editor's choice of fading the baby shot in after Hogan's longing gaze was the wisest choice.
What is it with the Japanese and women brandishing swords? Madonna, in full Samurai garb, shows off her flute skills, tries to sneak up on a dragon wearing what can only be described as really impractical shoes, and swings a sword in its general direction that either kills it or turns it into a glowing gold orb. It's a little unclear. It's possible the glowing orb was in the dragon's head. Anyway, getting that orb was hard work, and having succeeded, it's now time for a drink. Legend - an alcoholic beverage good enough for Samurai/flutist Madonna.
#7. Dennis Hopper
Everything in this ad screams Dennis Hopper, except for his disposition; he's downright cheerful. He loves his rubber duck and wants to share that joy with others, including his director. What perfectly sane person wouldn't? But things take a turn when the director foolishly thinks the Hopper's rubber ducky is for him. I have no idea what they're trying to sell.
#6. Peter Falk
I get the Columbo spots - it's a timeless pop culture reference that I'm sure the Japanese just lap right up. I'm a little less clear on the bartender spot; I assume he's comparing the whiskey to the arc of a movie, but it sure looks like he's just ready for a little midnight tryst with an attractive Asian businesswoman barfly as she orders a whiskey (and a whiskey). Seriously, I think Charles Bukowski would have trouble putting down that much hooch. And did Falk just ask for a happy ending?
Ok, I'll admit it. I don't get the Columbo spots either.
#5. Nicholas Cage
These ads prove that in real life Cage is more Sailor Ripley than Ben Sanderson. I do love the stereotypical portrayal of Americans in the second ad, that is until Cage starts the alien hoedown.
#4. ZZ TOP
It's an exact replica of a ZZ Top video, until the Small Super Mover makes an appearance. You'll never watch the "Legs" video the same way again.
#3. Meg Ryan
Ok, had I ever shouted, "It's a UFO!" while in the car with my parents, they would have just called me stupid and mocked me for the next 45 minutes. Not perky Meg Ryan. She happily takes the kids on a sojourn to what looks like the surface of the moon to witness the UFOs/a meteor shower. And I wouldn't even rank that as her most egregious offense. No, child services gets called once the kids testify under oath that she, after driving for hours chasing something in the sky, has no idea where they are. Navi Navi Dingo indeed.
#2. Bruce Willis
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say Bruce didn't really examine the script until after arriving in Japan. Otherwise I'm guessing he would have had one of his script doctors write out the nightcap.
#1 Arnold Schwarzenegger
It's hard to watch these and not think Arnie is playing a Japanese stereotype. And when I say that, I don't hold Schwarzenegger responsible whatsoever. That's on the people making the commercial. That said, this is exactly what I envision all Japanese television to be like: frantic, kinetic, non-sensical, and completely awesome.
And one more for good luck - I couldn't include this in the list, because it technically has no celebrity in it, but it's by far the greatest commercial I stumbled across. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Biz Markie Doll...
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go figure out how to get my hands on one of these.