In Britain I rarely see advertising on television. Although frankly I am a bit of a snob about some of the utter crap that people watch on television, the main reason I don’t see adverts is because I live in a place that also simply doesn’t get TV reception since they switched off the analogue signal. There’s no cable either, so I can’t watch broadcast television even if I wanted to.
However, when I’m at other people’s houses or otherwise out and about, most of the advertising I see in Britain is utterly unbearable either because it’s so high concept and precious that it’s obviously the product of some smug little shit of a creative who stole most of his ideas from people with actual talent anyway… or it’s unbearable just because it’s insufferably inept, patronising and wrong-headed. The rest is barely tolerable at best, and certainly not as endearingly weird and disturbingly charming as this (already fairly internet-notorious) Japanese commercial for a brand of cod roe-flavoured pasta sauce.
I do speak and read a bit of Japanese, but I’m aware there may still be more than enough cultural and linguistic difference at play for me to step back from Japanese ads enough to judge them a bit more on their own merits in a way that would be difficult for me in the Anglophone world, not least because there’s no way I would buy any of these products even if I was in Japan (and I have spent quite a lot of time in Japan, as it happens). Chris Marker points out a similar thing regarding his affection for and awe of Japanese advertising in his film Sans Soleil, made almost thirty years ago.
That doesn’t entirely account for my attraction to this advertising, though. What European ad campaign have you seen recently that has explored variations on the theme of wholesome-looking little girls apparently having some kind of bad trip/K Hole/schizophrenic experience? In the clip above, the knock at the door gets me. How and why did this horde of smirking kewpie-egg capsules knock on the door, and how did they open it anyway? Telekinesis? Below, the series continues with more little girls giving similar WTF-faces to the first… and who can blame them? I don’t think they’re even acting much. Martial hordes of kewpies advance across the dinner table like a North Korean parade in honour of the Dear Leader, or descend from a UFO onto a bleak, Bergmanesque beach to corner a girl innocently building sandcastles which will evidently prove no defence against these scarlet menaces. And always that tune, those childish voices more or less just repeating the name of the product but doing so as if it’s the war anthem of some strange nation or eldritch god.
In a similar vein, this ad for pizza (in common with many forms of public communication and information in Japan) deploys childish cartoon characters against a presumably adult audience, but then veers suddenly into bipolar melodrama as an anthropomorphised pizza shrieks “Thank you, my friends!” with tears of joy when provided with sufficient “toppingsu” by its peers, only to veer almost immediately into blank-eyed, ontological terror when the community of assorted meats and vegetables ostracises it. This advert is actually Japanese society in microcosm, although probably not intentionally.
By the way, the experiences of my own mouth and digestive system, along with numerous direct visual inspections have confirmed to me that Japanese pizzas are the most revolting and un-pizza-like pizzas anywhere on Earth.