Sake To Me: Western Celebs in Bizarre Vintage Japanese Commercials

It's no secret that the Japanese are big fans of Western celebrities, which means their commercials that feature them are often unapologetically starstruck, melodramatic, and sometimes a little weird -- and that makes them more entertaining than the usual bland American commercial spots. Here's a smattering of commercials that hail from the land of the rising sun featuring American and British stars. Some may make you wonder how desperate these famous folks were for the cash, but I give a huge pass to one, because his commercial is too awesome to be true (hint: it's at the end.)

Leonardo DiCaprio for Honda

I remember this Honda Civic hatchback, and it was a cute little car, although I think it would be a stretch to declare that the ride "feels like a jet." Maybe young Leo just didn't have that many years of driving experience under his belt yet. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger for Aluminum V 

I have no idea what's going on in this commercial or what they're saying, but the maniacal look and sound of Arnold Schwarzenegger laughing will forever haunt my dreams. That must be some energy drink. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger for Nissin Cup Noodles

The Japanese sure are big Arnold fans. The commercials in this compilation get progressively stranger. 

Hulk Hogan for Some Air Conditioning Company

A shirtless Hulk Hogan serenades a baby with a nursery rhyme. Amazing. 

Brad Pitt for Edwin Denim

I may be one of the only females on earth who doesn't find Brad Pitt attractive. Somehow, his order to look at his denim-covered derrier in this commercial doesn't change my mind. 

John Travolta for Tokyo Drink

All three commercials scream 1980s, but it defies logic why John Travolta is dressed like a police officer in the second spot...perhaps he had just come from a Hill Street Blues audition?

Dennis Hopper for Tsumura

Dennis Hopper in a bathtub laughing at a rubber ducky -- what a letdown. He should be promoting PABST BLUE RIBBON!

Sean Connery for Yogurt and Suntory Whiskey

Did I really just watch Sean Connery singing about yogurt with a helium-voiced puppet bunny and driving up to a gigantic carton of yogurt? Yes, I'm afraid I did and so did you. 

As for as the ponderous Suntory whiskey spot...I thought Bond preferred martinis, shaken and stirred. 

Roger Moore for Lark Cigarettes

Another Bond pitched cigarettes in this 007-inspired commercial that is more like a drawn out short film than an advertisement. 

Ringo Starr for Some Brand of Apple Juice 

John Lennon said that when he first met Yoko Ono the only member of the Beatles she was familiar with was Ringo, because his name was Japanese for apple. Flash forward to the '90s, and the Japanese seized the coincidence and opportunity to have Ringo hawk apple juice. (Of course Ringo is Japan's favorite Beatle. The Japanese didn't want Paul McCartney after he brought pot into their country.) Ringo is no stranger to commercials both of the American and Japanese variety and speaking of strange, have you ever seen his ads for Simple Life? See below -- today's your lucky day!

Ringo Starr for Simple Life

Believe it or not, these spots were for a leisure suit company, tipped by the jingle "I Love My Suit" as sung by Ringo...even though he's not actually wearing a suit in a few of the spots. I suppose the UFO is an homage to Starr's latest album at the time, Goodnight Vienna. Or maybe someone was just using drugs. 

Orson Welles for Nikka and G&G Whiskey

Welles' commercials for whiskey are unintentionally hilarious to me, thanks to these outtakes I wrote about a while back that showed the legendary actor at his tipsiest while trying to film his infamous Paul Masson wine ads. I wonder how many takes it took to get the whiskey promos perfect. 

Charles Bronson for Mandom After Shave 

Move over, Brad Pitt. The real man has arrived. 

Without a doubt, this commercial is clearly the best of the lot here -- 1970s machismo at its best, starring a king of 1970s machismo himself, Charles Bronson. I can't smell the Mandom after shave in the ad, but I can sure smell the testosterone.

What's not to love here? You have a song with the lyrics "all the world loves a lover" playing in the background and Bronson driving a fast machine back to his apartment after relaxing in a lounge. At his apartment overlooking the city lights he grabs a pipe, removes his shirt (with a flourish, by tossing it playfully into the air), grabs one of way-too-many bottles of Mandom from his bathroom and then douses on enough for all members of the Magnificent Seven! The application of the Mandom is interspersed with images of a kick-ass Bronson shooting a gun and riding a horse. 

While my stomach turned a little watching Bronson showering this stuff on (I'm not a fan of artificial fragrances and perfume/cologne in general), a male commenter on YouTube assures us that Mandom (it's still being made today) has "a very citrusy scent with a punch of airport, and a nice kick of leather at the end." There are more rave reviews about it on Amazon...perhaps this old '70s commercial is still converting browsers into buyers. 

BONUS...since first posting this article I also uncovered a second commercial Bronson did for Mandom, in which he catches a fish with his bare hands. You're welcome!


  1. The Amazon comments for ManDom are almost as good as the commercial...almost.

  2. Agree, Stonemaven...those are some colorful customer testimonials.

    The only way the Mandom commercial could be more awesome for me would be if there was a version that starred Steve McQueen.

  3. The Mandom commercial is so freakin' awesome, I felt like I was watching a mini Quentin Tarentino film!

    I saw someone interview Leonardo diCaprio about these commercials years ago & he got genuinely pissed and wouldn't talk about it. Yes they want those overseas mega-bucks but DONT WANT US AMERICANS TO SEE 'EM BECAUSE WE SHOULD SEE THEM AS ROYALTY.

    And as long as i'm being snarky, the Brad Pitt one was BLECCH BEYOND BELIEF-geezus Brad, how embarrassing!

    Thanks for sharing Pam, something interesting that is kinda "swept under the rug" here in the US :)

  4. Doug, your comments are making me chuckle. Since I first posted this article last night, I've amended it just now with a SECOND commercial I uncovered that Bronson did for Mandom. Too awesome.

    I agree; the Brad Pitt ad was just blech...also with the long blonde hair it appears it was done around the time he filmed "Interview With the Vampire."

    It's silly for DiCaprio or anyone else to not want to talk about these commercials because thanks to the Internet, they're no secret anymore. By the way there were other, very silly commercials I found that DiCaprio did in Japan but they looked more recent so I didn't include them. Same with a series of weird Nicholas Cage ads he did for a Japanese gambling game called Pachinko. Totally worth looking up sometime...they feature Cage at his...well, Cagey-ist.

  5. That Roger Moore one reminds me a little bit of a similar "short film" type commercial David Bowie did a couple of years ago. I forget what it was an ad for, but I actually saw it playing in front of a movie.

    Is it my imagination, or are some of these celebs trying to talk English with a Japanese accent?

  6. It does sound like Sean Connery was at the end of the yogurt ad, or that his voice was dubbed over.

  7. These commercials reminded me of the movie "Lost in Translation" with Bill Murray. He says from the beginning it's money that you just pick off the table, so I don't know why any actor would get butt hurt about it being known they were making them, I'd sure as heck do it. Great movie, btw.

    Rich, I thought the fake accent was a hoot. Wonder how much extra that was.


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