Friday, April 09, 2004



I remember some years ago I sent my brother a videotape of various kinds of oddball Japanese tv programs, like quiz shows, tarento shows ('talent' in the Japanese sense, a whole 'nother multipost item in itself), news, sumo, Japanese baseball, cooking shows, eating shows etc.; he later told me that by far the most intriguing stuff on the tape was the ads. And not only because they came in batches of 30 or so at a time. He got a crease between his eyebrows as he said this. I understand.

My own puzzlement with Japanese tv ads began not long I first arrived in this country, that's over 30 years ago, and saw this wordless ad: there is a great plain of still water, it appears there has been a flood. In the distance is a very small islet with a tree on it. Something is leaning against the tree, something white; your viewpoint draws nearer and steadily nearer: you perceive it is a woman, dressed in a white gown, lying on the ground, leaning against the tree. In her mouth is a small twig; from the twig dangle two ripe red cherries. And the product is?

You're guessing off the top of your Western head maybe...Cherries? You're getting cold. Fruit? Colder. Boats? Frost is forming. Flood protection? Icicles. A movie? You're turning blue. Weddings? Numbness. Fashion? Frostbite. Swimming gear? Hypothermia, give up, I'll tell you before it becomes terminal. The product advertised was: Motor oil. (And no, it wasn't Two Cherry motor oil.)

Yup. Now just to show you how much things haven't changed, here's an ad that's currently playing, only this time I'll give you a break, you're shivering so from that last one: just name the genre of the product. Middle-aged guy alone in his apartment, weirdly moping over a picture of an apparently lost little hairy Chihuahua dog. There's a scratching at the door. The man gets up and runs passionately down the actually very short corridor of his apartment, running foreverlike as if one-half of a pair of lovers loping toward each other across a sunny meadow, same kind of BGM; with lovelight in his eyes he opens the door and there is the very dog, sitting there looking soulfully up at him. The dog then looks to its right; the man steps out to look around the open door and there on the narrow entrance balcony are maybe 30 or 40 of the exact same dog. And the product is?

No, not pets. Or dogs. Or housing. Or apartments. Or... whatever. The product is: money. Specifically, no-collateral loans. This type of ad is pretty common on Japanese tv, and always leaves my mind thrashing around in knots on the floor. Which result is, I suppose, the basic aim of all advertising.

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