"Japanese commercials. Easiest money you'll ever make."
Celebrities appearing in crass, potentially embarrassing, or shoddy commercials that only air in a place far away from their normal stomping grounds.
A celebrity may be willing to do certain things for Money, Dear Boy
, but they'll also have a set of standards for what they'll do. You may think it's reasonable that they have their principles, but you forgot that most successful celebrities sold their principles and sense of shame bundled with their soul and 92-year-old grandmother in a package deal made at a crossroads to a gentleman of considerable wealth and taste
Deep down, not all successful celebrities believe that there is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity
, instead they are able to recognize (or pay their agents to recognize) that doing something embarrassing or "beneath" their standard for some short term bucks can become a Never Live It Down
that harms their long term prospects and marketability. They will refuse crass or embarrassing uses of their time. The one exception: if it is done very far away where no one will see it. And by "no one", we mean "no one who speaks English", and by "very far away", we usually mean "Japan".
Some celebrities are also willing to do foreign commercials as a way of keeping themselves visible in that market, when they don't have a movie being released over there at the time. Doing talk shows and TV appearances in their home country is feasible since they don't have to travel very far. Doing talk shows in a hundred different nations every other month would be nearly impossible. With a commercial, they only have to shoot it once, and it will be aired fairly often.
A trope that exists in the behavior of celebrities (actors/singers/etc.), and is also picked up readily by those in the industry and reflected in the works they make
: A celebrity goes over to Japan, possibly somewhere else, and then does a fairly embarrassing job clearly made only for the cash and in the belief that, due to the language barrier and the lack of appeal of a Widget Series
, nobody back home will see it.
If it ends up on YouTube, it quickly becomes an Old Shame
, which is why many have it written into their contracts that they can't have it be spread around. The term itself is a portmanteau of "Japan" and "Pandering".
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- Arnold Schwarzenegger is practically the God-King of this trope, as he did more than 30 advertisements, from energy drinks, noodles and beer to cars, DirecTV and anti-piracy. Schwarzenegger was one of the first celebrities to take advantage of this phenomenon, and many others followed suit. One example is the trope picture above for Alinamin V energy drink.
- Ben Affleck did a L'Oreal ad in the UK that featured the line, "Here comes the SCIENCE!", which got discovered by Fark.com and became the Trope Namer (well it defined the form) for Here Comes the Science.
- Brad Pitt is an interesting case, given that he may possibly be the biggest example of this trope. Pitt starred in many Japanese-only commercials in the 90's for jeans, Toyota and Honda cars, cell phones, coffee...you name it. However, he's been doing this since he broke into major film roles, and seems to genuinely respect the advertisers he markets for (to the point of recording a one-off song for the Edwin Jeans clothing company, of which he was a mascot for many years).
- George Clooney often does these, and has mentioned that he does them so he won't have to do paycheck roles in movies anymore.
- Britney Spears once shilled for Mikakuto gummy candy by doing corny dance routines.
- Bruce Willis has done many Japan-only commercials, ranging from the odd (a subdued performance as the husband of a Japanese woman while they admire a Subaru Outback) to the truly insane (the Eneos Service Station commercials, which...have to be seen to be believed).
- George Lucas once did Panasonic commercials with Star Wars characters
- Charles Bronson was doing this as far back as 1970: "Mmm... Mandom!" (And nobody would remember it if it weren't for Lucky Star.)
- David Bowie's done U.S. and U.K. ads (MTV, Pepsi, XM Satellite Radio), but also a few foreign ones. In Japan, his 1980 ad for Jun Rock sake featured an original instrumental, "Crystal Japan", that became a Japanese A-side and U.K. B-side. In Italy, he did an ad for Vittel bottled water in 2003...and, with some reediting and a different song, it became the U.S. ad for his album Reality! Neither ad is any sillier than his English-language-speaking ads, either; in fact the Japanese ad is the classiest of the lot.
- Harrison Ford in a series of Japanese ads for Uncharted 3.
- Jean Reno did a commercial for a canned coffee drink in full Viking regalia, including a horned helmet.
- Reno did it again, but this time playing Doraemon of all things to promote Toyota's "Fun To Drive Again" series of ads where it shows the Doraemon characters 20 years later. Reno appears in the TV commercial series starting with the 2nd commercial. See the ads here.
- Kiefer Sutherland of 24 has starred in a series of Jack Bauer-themed commercials for Calorie Mate nutritional supplements, where he plays the part of the grizzled agent while maneuvering through schoolgirls on a crowded subway car or disarming bombs in downtown Tokyo. This also appears to be the sole reason why Carlos Bernard made an appearance on a Japanese comedy show as Tony Almeida.
- American soccer player Landon Donovan made some ads for a sports-based lottery in Mexico.
- Madonna has a long history of pimping Japanese goods, including campaigns for Mitsubishi in the 80's (where she performed various songs in person), Elleseine makeup (where she rides an elephant), a 1995 campaign for Takara beer (where she fights poorly-CGI'd dragons before enjoying a glass) and, most bizarrely, a 2007 campaign for a high-rise Japanese condo development.
- This seems to be the sole reason why Nicolas Cage starred in a series of commercials for Sankyo Pachinko machines. The set of commercials (which, among other incidents, include him singing a heartfelt ballad about the joys of pachinko, gasping in awe and yelling in triumph when a group of triplets ask him for an autograph, and banging heads with pachinko-headed "moonmen" in the desert) includes Cage acting entirely in the "kooky" persona he's cultivated over the years - one seems to think that he knows he's in on the joke, and is just doing it to fund his outstanding mortgage payments.
- A series of ads featuring Paul Newman for the Nissan Skyline became so iconic within Japan that the 1982-85 models (chassis code R30) are still referred to as the "Newman Skyline" to distingush them from earlier and later styles.
- Newman had been associated with the brand for a long time, racing their cars throughout the 70s and 80s. The R30 got a "Paul Newman" edition, which added decals and embroidery of his signature to a top spec model.
- A yogurt ad manages to have Sean Connery singing with a rabbit in a sports car.
- The series of ads promoting Suntory Whiskey (immortalized in the film Lost in Translation, seen below) used various Western celebrities, including Sean Connery, Francis Ford Coppola, Keanu Reeves and several others extolling the virtues of foreign whiskey while mugging for the camera and making complete fools of themselves.
- After a deal with Kowa Co. Ltd, Tiger Woods can now be found swinging a golf club to sell back cream.
- Aside from his involvement in the aforementioned Suntory Whiskey ads, Tommy Lee Jones has shilled for Boss◊ coffee. The people of Japan recognize that Jones is, indeed, the Boss.
- An extensive number of celebrities have shilled for various Japanese energy drinks over the years.
- John Travolta shilled for Tokyo Drink during a commercial campaign in the early 80's, complete with embarrassing dance moves and a faux-workout routine.
- Ben Stiller humiliated himself during a commercial for Chill Energy Drink, yelling in overdubbed Japanese about how fresh it is.
- The cast of Twin Peaks once did a Japanese advert for Georgia coffee, which is coffee in a can.
- Chevy Chase for Cola Turka.
- Public radio star Garrison Keillor is the voice of Honda in the UK. The ads themselves are dignified (in one ad, however, he cheers on the English football team ahead of a World Cup), but a US endorsement would lose credibility with the anti-commercial fanbase of public radio.
- Jackie Chan seems to be doing this in the United States these days.
- A series of ads for a language school in Brazil tells the misadventures of two youngsters who can't speak English and wind up in all sorts of misery because of it. Such ads have featured American celebrities like Bruce Willis (in an airplane, fighting a terrorist while instructing the boys to take a parachute and jump out; they instead get rid of their own parachute before Willis jumps out to safety), Megan Fox, Mike Tyson (both in the same ad; the boys first wind up in a paradise full of Megan lookalikes, but they can't say anything to them, so they're whisked off to a Mordor-like place full of Tyson lookalikes) and Samuel L. Jackson (as a sort of game show host, who gives those same boys a random punishment after they don't understand when a New York hot dog vendor asks what they want in their hot dogs).
- Even Beavis And Butthead got in on the act, appearing in a series of commercials for mints, of all things, in Japan.
- Orlando Bloom doing a sales pitch for Kirin Mets Cola.
- Woody Allen did a few commercials for Seibu, which is a Japanese department store chain.
- The turn of the 1980s saw the American business computer manufacturer Prime Computer showing a series of adverts in Australia and New Zealand featuring Tom Baker and Lalla Ward in character as the Doctor and Romana. They are notorious in fandom for the final advert, which depicted the relationship between the two characters as overtly romantic.
- Madness did an advert for the Honda City kei-car in Japan, for which they wrote and performed their own jingle. Tropes Are Not Bad, since they subsequently expanded the jingle into a full song, "In the City", which was their only B-side good enough to be included on their Complete Madness Greatest Hits Album.
- Lost in Translation uses this for Bob Harris's reason to be in Japan. He's there doing an ad for Suntory whiskey in a job that he in no way has any reason for being chosen for other than for being a recognizable face. His wife keeps phoning him about carpet samples and paint colors so it's implied that he's building a house which is probably why he's doing it. The depressed funk he gets from the debasement is a large part of the entire theme of the film (note that Sofia Coppola's father, Francis Ford Coppola, did in fact do this with Suntory ads in Japan, as did Sean Connery, who gets referenced a few times in the movie).
- Referenced in Mean Girls, although the character appears to consider it unequivocally cool:
"I hear [Regina
] does car commercials. In Japan!"
- Done in-universe in "Thank You for Smoking." Celebrities are perfectly willing to shill for cigarettes in overseas markets, just not at home where they've got a reputation to maintain.
- Joey from Friends is at one point a mid-level daytime Soap Opera star and ends up doing this from an advert for Ichiban Lipstick for Men. The advert is very much a Weird Japanese Thing: Joey is wearing bright blue lipstick while bright blue animation and dancing schoolgirls interject a number of flash cuts. You watch it, you can't un-watch it.
- Mo Harris on EastEnders, of all beings, makes reference to the practice as part of an Aesop about how you should never sell stolen goods near your home turf and should do it a few boroughs away instead (it's not a very good moral). EastEnders is fond of transparent ploys to be relevant so most likely, one of the writers saw Lost in Translation one night and then spend several months trying to work it into a script.
- In the Chinatown episode of Entourage, Ari persuades Vince to do a very well paid Chinese energy drink commercial.
- In one episode of Leverage, part of Elliot's cover is a (fake) Japanese energy drink commercial that Hardison whipped together.
- The Big Book of Top Gear features The Stig in one such ad.
- On Would I Lie to You?, one of Jimmy Carr's lies was that he'd done a commercial for snuff (of all things) in Japan.
- 30 Rock shows one that Jenna did where she takes a sip of a drink, smiles, and then is slapped in the face. "I still don't know how that advertised Tokyo University."
- In Hot In Cleveland Victoria dreams of the day that she's achieved enough fame that she can sell out for a boatload of money. She ends up doing a commercial for adult diapers. (They preserve the freshness of crotch!)
- Conan O'Brien did a Super Bowl Special commercial for Bud Light, where he did an embarrassing ad in Sweden which got released in the United States. .
- He would also use the above Schwarzenegger ads for clips for Late Night With Conan O'Brien.
- On Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23 James Van der Beek filmed an energy drink commercial in Vietnam. As expected it is hilariously bad.
- One character from brazilian soap opera "Uga Uga" posed naked for a magazine under the impression the photos wouldn't be sold anywhere but Japan.
- Some of the boys of Bondi Rescue used this trope as part of a prank on one of their co-workers. They pretended that he was the favourite lifeguard among their Japanese viewers, and so he was selected to be in the commercial for a new energy drink. The name of the drink translated as "cat piss", which was what was in the can he was drinking from.
- Pet Shop Boys based their music video for "Flamboyant" on this trope, intercutting the story of a man coordinating a billiards based act on Kasou Taishou with mock ads featuring them.
- The intro for Saints Row: The Third features Pierce starring in a Japanese commercial for "Saints Flow", a Saints-brand energy drink.
- Claptrap of Borderlands 2 did a Japanese commercial for "rodent bleach", as seen here. He wears a hachimaki, shouts nonsense, and cuts a rat in half with a katana. And apparently has something against guys named Jeffrey.
- Pepsiman is the video game equivalent of this, exploiting blatantly American settings to tie in with a Japan-exclusive Pepsi campaign. However, the actor, Mike Butters, was definitely not a known celebrity (and still isn't, despite appearing since then in several Saw movies).
- A Robot Chicken sketch revolves around Sarah Michelle Geller advertising a Japanese feminine hygiene product.
- When The Simpsons went to Japan Homer & Bart ran into Woody Allen filming a commercial while dressed in boxing gear.
Oh. [ahem] Hello. [ahem
] So many rice crackers claim to be low-cal, but only Fujikawa Rice Crackers make your interiors go bananas! What did I do to deserve this? ... Oh, right.