There is no shortage of money in the Japanese advertising industry, as evidenced by the fact that commercials here tend to have significantly higher production values than the shows they punctuate. Western celebrities have consequently made their way to Japan for decades to promote just about everything under the sun in exchange for generous fees, in the past covertly and today unashamedly. Let’s delve into the endlessly fascinating world of foreign faces endorsing products on shores far from home.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger Guzzles Energy Drinks and Slurps Cup Noodles
It’s not a widely known fact, but the Governator sustained his herculean physique thanks to a strict diet of energy drinks and instant ramen. The benevolent aura of playful authority Arnie emits throughout both campaigns is impressive, especially when he dons the garb of a humble salaryman who develops superhuman attributes after chugging a 50ml bottle of the potent wonder liquid. So prolific was Schwarzenegger’s advertising output in Japan that he became an object of persistent intrigue on the American TV show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
2. Nicolas Cage’s Pachinko Pandemonium
With a career so famously wild and wacky, it’s no surprise that Nicolas Cage ended up appearing in a series of advertisements for Sankyo Pachinko Machines. Spanning genres and the globe, these commercials give Cage the chance to truly emote his passion for noisy metal balls. He plays the piano in honor of pachinko and leads a hoedown with giant anthropomorphic pachinko aliens with absolute conviction and unyielding gusto. When he boldly declares “I love pachinko” you really do believe it.
3. Tommy Lee Jones Is the Boss of Them All
Boss Coffee is omnipresent in Japan. You couldn’t escape it if you wanted to, nor can you get away from the iconic rugged visage of Tommy Lee Jones. But why would you want to? His reassuring expression of calm, almost mystical tranquility can be found atop vending machines, adorning posters and billboards, and in motion on television. Taking on the persona of “Alien Jones,” an extraterrestrial tasked with observing the daily lives of ordinary Japanese citizens, he has become something of a cultural institution since the inception of the concept in 2006. During the dark apex of the pandemic, he even doled out advice on how to stay safe. Alien Jones unquestionably deserves his lofty social status.
4. Harrison Ford Isn’t Bored When He’s Drinkin’ Kirin
Harrison Ford famously bonded with Alec Guinness on the set of the original Star Wars due to their shared contempt for what they perceived as very low-quality dialogue. He doubtlessly treated this material with more respect. Ford goes to a bustling izakaya and asks for a “kirin lager biru kudasai,” then asks for the same thing at a sun-drenched beach before miming the art of drinking a kirin lager beer while getting steamed up in a sauna. Much loved actress Momoko Kikuchi and veteran comedian Shiro Ito appear to confirm the visitor’s excellent taste in alcohol. I like to assume this all takes place in the Blade Runner universe.
5. Audrey Hepburn’s Hair-Raising Performance
Audrey Hepburn secured a special place in Japanese popular culture when she memorably inserted her hand into the Bocca della Verità in Roman Holiday, though the less said about Mickey Rooney’s character in her later hit Breakfast at Tiffany’s the better. An offer by wig manufacturer Varie in the early 1970s to promote its wares proved too much for the fashion icon to resist, but Hepburn was quite conscious of her refined image and consequently only agreed to appear in the commercials under contractual conditions that they never aired outside of Japan. The adverts aren’t nearly as disconcerting as when she was subsequently resurrected from the dead to sell chocolate.
6. James Brown’s Souperb Showcase in Showmanship
James Brown, deservedly revered as the “Godfather of Soul” for his exceptional career that lasted for more than half a century, set the world alight with his 1970 recording “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” A little over 20 years later he was singing his established classic with modified lyrics in praise of a miso soup variety of Nissin’s Cup Noodles. The kinetic energy he generates even in this unconventional setting will surely have you dancing off those carbs and fats in no time at all. Added to the check he received; it must have surely made him feel good.
7. Madonna’s Hooch Hijinks
Have you ever been so desperate for a drink that you busted out your katana and engaged an enormous golden dragon in battle so that you might have a sip of sake? Madonna had this very same experience back in 1995 in search of Takara’s finest, so you are not alone. She even wrote the lyrics of the jingle, displaying a kind of assertive creative control seldom seen in the field.
“How can I be pure, when all the strength I have is breaking me? How can I be sure, where is this road I’ve chosen taking me? I’m pure. Jun Legend.”
A legend in her own right.