Brockway: Everyone has a favorite western celebrity in a Japanese commercial. Remember the one where Arnold Schwarzenegger screams until his head explodes, and he becomes god? I think it’s for energy drinks? Oh shit, what about the one where Bruce Willis disappoints a terrier for Cup Noodle? Haha, that ruled – the little guy was so heartbroken. You never think pet suicide can be funny until you see somebody pull it off. We believe your favorite Japanese commercial humiliating a western celebrity for yen says a lot about you. So we asked every single Hot Dogger to pick theirs, and that’s it. That’s all we’re doing today, because it’s been a long year and you’re already drunk.
Seanbaby: I love this concept because at 1900🌭, we’ve torn open such a dark portal to weird that long-forgotten Japanese marketing campaigns feel downright normal-headed. If this is someone’s first article here they might say, “Oh, I know these! Fun! What an ordinary website!” My point is, we’re going to have some real shareable fun today, gang! Unless I’m wrong and Brockway immediately posts a picture of Kyle MacLachlan leering at you with a tiny can of coffee.
You hear “David Lynch made Twin Peaks commercials for a Japanese coffee drink” and you assume you’re in for a weird time. Harrison Ford went over there and they had him urinate on a pig for a new type of Pachinko machine. Nic Cage did Japanese commercials and he actually ate a consenting man on camera, every bit of him. It was for Sanrio egg timers. “You are the egg!” he screamed at the end, before vomiting 140 pounds of manflesh into a series of buckets with Gudetama on them.
David Lynch is America’s Japan. Putting him together with actual Japan should carve a hole in the concept of coherence. It should leave a scar on the world. Tokyo Airport should have to permanently reroute flights away from the airspace over NHK Studio Park because the planes keep transforming into diapered men in flower masks.
But nobody expected Lynch to reshoot all of Twin Peaks as a series of four commercials for Japanese canned coffee drinks. The whole thing is just over two minutes, it features most major characters and their original actors, and all filmed on the actual Twin Peaks sets. It’s an insane level of access for such a petty promotion, it’d be like if production for House of the Dragon halted for two days so they could use every resource at their disposal to advertise Taiwanese dog panties.
It starts with a Japanese blockhead, Ken, looking for his unobtrusive girlfriend, Asami. Before she disappeared, she sent him a postcard from Twin Peaks, but when they searched her room all they found was this deer head.
That’s a perfectly Lychian start, prompting goth girls and gay men to write 6,000 word essays about native deer symbology for the next thirty years-
Oh, nevermind. There’s a design on the mounting board that’s also the logo for Big Ed’s Gas Farm. They go there. Mystery solved.
This is, this is not how David Lynch works. You should have to know that deer represent virility to the Shoshone, but in Chilean mythology a disembodied animal head symbolizes doom, while Jungian dream archetypes insist that left-pointing antlers indicate a fear of impotence. You should have to look all that shit up on broken library microfiche to understand this scene, instead they just loot a map from a deer corpse. That’s weird if you think about it, but nothing that doesn’t happen in Skyrim.
End of commercial. Wait, no-
Double thumbs up to freeze frame, and then end of commercial. This is Japan we’re talking about.
The formula repeats: At Big Ed’s they find red snooker balls, which reminds Cooper of cherry pie.
Off to the diner, where Asami left an origami crane for Ken. Triple thumbs up!
The crane has the letter G on the side, so this being Lynch of course we have to cross reference musical notes with incorrect historical info about female erogenous zones and-
No, the locations on a map of town spell the letter G.
If I ran into these puzzles in a child’s adventure game I’d look for a difficulty slider.
The end of the G points to the Black Lodge. Yes, the place where the weave between dimensions thins, and demons are able to cross over. That’s where we’re going for this fucking canned coffee commercial. That’s an insane location for an ending, sure, but the logical path to get here should have been a lunatic’s cypher carved across a generation of female victims that reminded him of his mother, and instead it was a Sunday edition Family Circus cartoon.
Cooper crosses dimensions into the lodge-
Where a backwards-talking Asami says one line to make scale.
A quick flash of the zigzag carpet for fan service — “fuck yeah, I know that carpet!” said Twin Peaks fans?
And they zap back to reality. If Twin Peaks didn’t exist, this would be the craziest series of commercials ever filmed. Instead it’s David Lynch making Twin Peaks: Babies and accidentally proving his whole story was two minutes long if you cut out the backwards talking dwarves. It’s just extra crazy to me that when you send David Lynch to Japan he becomes a normie. It’s like multiplying negative numbers, I guess.
Anyway, this series of coffee commercials ends with everyone standing on a demonic reality bleed while dancing ghostlights imply they might not have made it out at all, and then they give a group thumbs up, so I forgive everything.
I’m a big fan of Pierce Brosnan. I rarely discuss that, especially not on this here website. But it’s true. I’ll follow Pierce anywhere. So if I watch these clips enough times, I’ll follow him into an addiction to Lark brand Japanese cigarettes.
Great news: these ads are from the Live Wire / Death Train Era, when Pierce semi-secretly auditioned for the role of James Bond by taking every acting gig that was Bond-shaped. I also feel these ads are the peak of that era, because…
1) They are 100% action-and-gadgets scenes.
2) They’re as funny as the “jokes” James Bond tells after killing a foreign national.
3) Pierce was so desperate to get the Bond role he took this odd job selling cancer.
The last part (cigarettes) is distinctively Japanese. Apparently modern Japan offers many such jobs, because they’re a nation where cigarette sales are…I don’t want to say “healthy.” But Japan’s cigarette market is blazin’, to this day. It’s doing numbers. Such numbers, I once taped a whole chunk of a podcast, with phenomenal guests, about Japan creating a national ID card system just to modernize their cigarette vending machines. Gotta keep those going!
And these commercials support that industry. They team Japan’s love of nicotine with Brosnan’s hunger for the tuxedo-hero crown – and they go much wilder than they have any right to. Treat yourself to the full three minute compilation. Gems abound. The first ad opens with a reaction shot of a tropical parrot.
I feel it’s an artistic triumph and a heartfelt tribute to the pigeon double-take in Moonraker. The second ad features a sexual “cutouts from Home Alone” trick, with an ending where two adults achieve mid-smooch teleportation onto a mid-air helicopter.
Another ad makes part of the cigarette pack a secret remote camera-melter, putting a paparazzo and/or private eye out of a job, with as much justification as Bugs Bunny attacking that opera singer.
Almost all the ads place Pierce Brosnan in lethal danger, and make him alllllmost too busy smoking to save his own life. Why? “Speak Lark.” They’re the two words Pierce says in these ads – and they’re as sensible as any lung-death slogan can be.
Let’s talk about regret. The love you lost. The dream you abandoned. The lottery ticket you purchased. The time you shot an ad with Tony Hawk and hid him like a fresh body. He’s somewhere in this shot:
For those too active for Playstation and inactive for CTE, Tony’s somewhat notable in skateboarding. He had the skill, innovation, and fame of R&B’s greatest sex criminals. And he loved money. In a niche that called you a sellout for living indoors, Tony Hawk milked Bagel Bites, Jeep, Doritos, and some kind of board game. And good on him for it. His critics were in Thrasher, a print guide to shattering your ankles.
A 1994 stage on his wealth quest was a Japanese Coke ad, which tapped his dominant vert career for…a stunt double. Tony Hawk is, from the back and side, one of these three carving a giant coke bottle. Briefly. We’re more focused on a casting call for “street skater, pre-hospital.”
Which one’s Tony? Hell if I know. He does his job and blends in, lighting millions on fire like the Joker selling subprime loans. The first X-Games were that year, and I’m confident an aspiring Don Draper was beaten with his own breakfast whiskey for this oversight. I still have Jim Beam scars from my agency days.
Now, call me a dirty minimalist, but my Tony Hawk Coke ad would be Tony Hawk holding Coke. “I’m Tony Hawk, and I can fly better and faster than the bird. Drink this dark brown poison, and you can heelflip out of anonymity into the skies.” Then he’d choke down a can of peasant juice, driven by the new tanning bed waiting in his second home. Finally, he’d land. Everything prior was in midair.
JJ Abrams directed this. It’s hard to imagine the creator of the two Star Wars movies you can’t remember wasting an opportunity. So we’ll blame Disney.
It’s hard to know what kind of fun to have with Japanese commercials. They seem to have the same desperate need as American ads to be something. And when weirdness is deliberate and motivated, it’s not weird. I grew up with commercials where Kool-Aid Man would burst into your home, turn it mostly cartoon, and make drink squirt out of your ears. That’s my culture’s normal– trapped in a world of Trapper Keeper while Kool-Aid Man watches you die. So seeing it in a different language is only interesting if there’s some kind of confused straight man. That’s why I like my Japanese commercials with Tommy Lee Jones.
Tommy Lee starred in a series of ads where he plays a teacher who hates nonsense so much he developed actual super powers to disintegrate it. I don’t even know what I’m supposed to buy. I just love the contempt he has for such silliness. He couldn’t hope to understand it with a team of translators. He wouldn’t even try, and he is already cranky as shit about all the impenetrable CGI antics they’re going to make his body do. It’s fantastic. But again, they’re obviously going for what this is. I’m not some sucker who sees zany in the wrong language and mistakes it for madness. No, if you’re looking for the work of actual Japanese marketing lunatics, you need to go back to 1970. You need Mandom.
If you’ve never seen Charles Bronson advertising Mandom perfume for men, I am so excited to tell you about it. It opens with him being serenaded by a man at a piano. They are alone in a hotel bar. His voiceover slurs, “All the world. Love is a lover,” cut down from the full line, “All the world. Love is a lover shit I blew that one, let me take it again.” Speaking of cut down, this commercial was fucking not. It is two full minutes long. When Japanese TV cut to commercial in 1970, viewers thought they were watching an entirely new show about hunks cruising for high class dick.
Despite all the sparks flying across that piano, Bronson goes home alone. The actor playing the door man was paid to be friendly for three seconds but he gave them eleven lifetimes worth. “I AM A MANIAC,” his eyes and teeth shriek as he says good night to the movie star who definitely fucked a piano player in the lobby’s opulent toilet. “IT’S GOOD TO BE CHARLES BRONSON,” say the smug lips and wet haunches of Charles Bronson. So far, it’s a very good commercial.
Bronson gets home and does two very manly things. First, he pulls the perfect pipe from his pipe depot. Next, he rips his shirt off only with far more theatrical flourish than should be possible:
When Charles Bronson sees a 12-foot ceiling he says, “Let’s go outside. This is too low for me to take my shirt off.” And when you’re operating on man levels this high, you don’t “do laundry.” You fling your clothes in whatever direction you want and screaming babes will catch them before they hit the floor. This is all glorious. Drench every panty, you Lithuanian beast. Burst like a steed and turn all holes to war zones. Whatever product Charles Bronson is selling, you’re about to fuck it or fuck it.
Oh god, it’s Mandom. It’s really called Mandom. And you drench yourself in it. Maybe it smells, maybe it moisturizes, maybe you eat it through your rippling skin, but it takes eighty shakes to apply one serving. Yes, Charles Bronson. Pour it over yourself, you sex minotaur. Oh Jesus, oh shit, is that footage of you as a Cherokee gunfighter cutting in every twenty pumps? This rules. This is so far beyond what it is to be a man. Charles Bronson is some kind of mountain fuckfolk. This is a visual metaphor for a coal miner’s boner communicated by a genius artist at the peak of his inspiration. Yes again, Charles Bronson. Splash, splash the Mandom until there is nothing but Mandom’s wet.
The pumping never stops. If this product is cologne it’s insane. If Mandom is not cologne it’s insane. Mandom must be something Charles Bronson has to do medically every night to mask his scent. This is something Jane Goodall invented so she could safely masturbate among the chimpanzees. “Love is a lover,” the commercial sings while Bronson continues to shake gallons of perfume on himself. A message on his phone interrupts to say, “Hi, this is Frank at Home Depot letting you know your order is ready, and uh, we’re happy to sell you another door, Mr. Bronson, but until you do something about that musk, the women are going to keep going through it. Every new moon they’re going to claw straight through it. Thanks!”
It ends with a horseman riding for the night while Charles Bronson rubs the last of a case of Mandom into the rugged canyons of his face. Whether it was an error in translation or a bold creative choice, Charles Bronson was obviously told, “Make passionate love to yourself. Just fucking ruin yourself for every woman. Oh god, I’m cumming. Action.” You, reader, have now experienced the splashing of Mandom and legally Charles Bronson has been inside you.
Earmagine! With your hearin mind the first few seconds of Sketches about Spain! If your like me the clicks sound like big, cold crickets and then theres trumpets or something but there so majestic its like Charles Bronson hovin’ up into viewsight. Over a Italian Mountain. But also meloncholy like hes wounded. But still Majestic! Like hes carryin a woman or a child to the safety of a elagant convertable!
But who is it that could make mere audio such a emotional imagine of vividness ‘pon our brains? Well its just this guy:
They flew mister Miles Davis to japan and gave him a buncha money (he probably spent alot of it on that outfit what can only be described as: Durango Vampire) and here we see him do pretty much nothin at all for 17 seconds but somehow still disappoint us by sayin he’ll play music and then talk about it and he doesnt do any of those and also i guess: Scooter.
But then we switch back to the tab with the music and LISTEN: it sounds like the sad part of a 70s horse movie what has way better music than it needs to and makes you think: They used the same horse sound effect 400 times in this movie but then they also took the time to make songs that make our hearts curl up like that? And the same guy that did THAT is ALSO this kinda frightnin leathered-goblin breakin promises up against that Honda!?
And maybe the only thing we can learn from this is that if MIles is both a transendint seruph and the vulgarest of sellouts then maybe but for all of us too maybe the only thing we can ever know for REALLY true about ourselves is that we are a Fool but I Say it Warmly, in the Name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
There are many things you notice when watching Steven Seagal’s Japanese energy drink commercials. First, that both commercials are hosted on what appears to be Steven Seagal’s official YouTube channel, @sseagalmojopriest. Second, that the comments have been disabled. Third, that he speaks Japanese in a way that feels racist. He sounds like a guy trying to impress his date at Kyoto Steakhouse and accidentally asking the server to please call the police because his anus is in terrible debt.
In this commercial, Seagal deploys his patented Move As Little As Possible style of Aikido to mercilessly beat up a faceless opponent, possibly a stand-in for the person who made him decide to disable his YouTube comments. He staggers back, gasping for breath and sweating profusely. It is the most believable performance of his entire career. He then struggles mightily through a few lines of Japanese and strikes a pose in a sleeveless karate-gi, gently cradling a bottle of the energy drink.
He looks like the most divorced Street Fighter. He looks like the prime suspect in a throwing star attack. He looks like a man who cleans pools to pay for his karate classes. Unlike many of the other actors on this list, Steven Seagal is uniquely suited for incomprehensible ten-second commercials recorded in a language I can’t understand. That’s because everything Steven Seagal does is terrible in extremely specific ways that transcend the limitations of human speech. Steven Seagal is the universal language of Gasping Karate. He sucks so hard it’s like math. Anyway, you can’t buy this drink anymore. I tried.
Years ago, a comedy website asked me to write about Japanese Commercials Starring American Celebrities.
I monetized my ignorance exactly how you’d expect from 2010, and have spent the years since chiding myself that American commercials look equally bonkers if you don’t speak English. So when I gawp at this Sylvester Stallone ad for bagged hot dogs, it is resolute gawping.
I know the limits of cultural nuance by touch, and this ad right here obscures a pre-Babel curse. The Italian Stallion greets us from the links of a pleasant rich man’s game of lying about a hole-in-one into the mouth… seconds later we stare into the mouth, nose, ears, and anus of madness.
As a bouquet of extra-wet frankfurters leaps at the cameraman’s face, the winner-to-wiener message is clear: hot dogs are as American as Rocky IV, and twice as champion. “Bavarian!” Sly groans twice in Japanese, but he cannot disguise the commercial’s true message: the puncture of that heinous casing.
I know my hot-dog-based media, and no good hot dog sounds like the hollow thump of an apple hosting a colony of codling moths with human faces. Before you can recover, the silhouette in space that was once a sound engineer layers in a second piercing: this one the water-cannon shot of guts from a roach carapace that withstood your boot for a second too long.
That’s not a hot dog, that’s how a 5th-dimensional imp reveals its true name once it’s too late to stop its victorious compression into our meatspace.
“Dõ ham, takata oishi!” Stallone says, which translates to “The salt-matrix pork of knockout delicious!” But you cannot hear him. The Meat Thing has already chewed its way from its ears into your brain.
Charlie Sheen’s foot vending machine sounds way more like a true crime podcast title than a fun setup for a Japanese commercial. It’s hard to imagine a time when any brand would want to associate Charlie Sheen waving a gun around like a maniac with their product, but apparently Madras Modello thought that was the best way to get Japanese customers into their shoes.
Sheen doesn’t have an actual gun. He’s just pointing at rows of feet protruding from a wall and going, “pew pew” as they retract, like an extra violent game of whack-a-mole in a world where we evolved from spiders.
Until he pretends to hit one, and a woman’s shocked face flashes across the screen.
He picks up the shoe he successfully hunted, looks into the camera, and also fake shoots it.
So many shoes were harmed in the making of this commercial.