10 Celebrities Who Starred in Japanese Commercials

By Ellen Kershner on June 23 2020 in Did You Know

Japanese sake ads in ukiyo-e style with men and cute monkey. Image credit: JoyImage/Shutterstock.com
Japanese sake ads in ukiyo-e style with men and cute monkey. Image credit: JoyImage/Shutterstock.com
  • A-list celebrities from Europe and the United States rarely appear in television commercials in their homelands.
  • In Japan, celebrities there are seen often in commercials, many of which are actually quite funny.
  • Known by the nickname “Schwa-chan,” action movie star legend Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in many Japanese ads.
  • Tommy Lee Jones is the face of Boss Coffee in Japan.

A-list celebrities from Europe and the United States rarely appear in television commercials in their homelands. In these countries, there seems to be a stigma attached to being paid to sell a company’s wares to the public. For some, an ad featuring a big movie star hawking cellphones would signal to a sellout to fans. This perception has changed over the years, but most major actors and musicians still decline to be hired for commercials in these parts of the world.

Things are different in Asia, as the line dividing success and sellout has never been drawn. In Japan, celebrities there are seen often in commercials. Stars from other countries can also take advantage of the good pay for work in Japanese ads.

10. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Image credit: IVN News/Flickr.com
Image credit: IVN News/Flickr.com

Known by the nickname “Schwa-chan,” action movie star legend Arnold Schwarzenegger has been in many Japanese ads. He can be seen in older commercials for noodles, energy drinks, and other products. In fact, he used a trademark phrase that become popular, “daijou-V.” This translates to “okay” in Japanese. Schwarzenegger’s former co-star Bruce Willis also made a cameo appearance in one of these commercials.

9. Brooke Shields

Back in her heyday in the 80s, Brooke was hired to promote Lux shampoo in a Japanese TV commercial. The ad showed her struggling to get out the knots in her famously thick hair, until the shampoo saved the day. In the ad, she says in English, “Lux, super rich.”

8. Natalie Portman

Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia.org
Image credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia.org

Academy award-winner Natalie Portman was also in a Lux Super Rich shampoo commercial, but did not say anything. Instead, she is seen filming a fencing scene against a male opponent as her thick dark hair swirls in circles around her. She wins the match, of course!

7. Harrison Ford

Ford also won an Academy Award, back in 1986 for the movie Witness (best actor). During the next decade, he filmed a group of advertisements for Kirin beer. One was filmed in a sauna, with him and a friend having a imaginary drink. The two rush out, clad only in towels, to have real beers. Ford spoke Japanese in the spot.

6. Tommy Lee Jones

Image credit: Dick Thomas Johnson/Wikimedia.org
Image credit: Dick Thomas Johnson/Wikimedia.org

He won an Oscar in 1994 for Best Supporting Actor in The Fugitive, but Tommy Lee Jones is also the face of Boss Coffee in Japan. He actually played an alien in their commercials, who is supposedly researching what life is like on Earth. These commercials are very popular in Japan, and Jones’ face can also be seen on Boss Coffee vending machines.

5. Madonna

Megastar Madonna has filmed Japanese television commercials for Mitstubishi, Elleseine salons, and Takara sake. She is seen performing her music, and in one is wielding a sword!

4. Justin Bieber

Image credit: Daniel Ogren/Wikimedia.org
Image credit: Daniel Ogren/Wikimedia.org

Cell-phone network provider SoftBank nabbed the singing idol for their advertising campaigns. In one, Bieber is singing and playing in a high school while large-eyed, thrilled female fans surround him. Japanese comedy star Pikotaro also made a quick cameo as a schoolteacher for this one.

3. Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt was also hired by SoftBank to appear in their commercials, and worked with famous directors like Wes Anderson and Spike Jonze. In one spot, Pitt is the personal assistant to sumo champion Musashimaru. The star is seen feeding the 520-pound co-star sushi, and carrying the larger man when his shoe breaks. The ad’s tagline was, "Serving you in any way necessary."  

2. Hugh Jackman

Hugh Jackman

Multi-talented Hugh Jackman sang and danced in a Japanese commercial for Lipton Iced Tea called "Tokyo Dancing Hotel" in 2010. Clad in a suit and tie, Jackman is sitting in a hotel and decides to have a sip of the tea. He then breaks into a dance, and is joined by other dancers. They make their way through a restaurant, outside, upstairs, down an elevator, and finally back to where he was sitting, by his iced tea.

1. Nicolas Cage

Cage appeared in ads for Sankyo Pachinko. This company is one Japan’s largest pinball manufacturers. In one ad, he is seen at the piano, hamming it up at the piano. He sings in English, about the wonders of Sankyo Pachinko machines. In another spot, he is dressed as a cowboy, driving in his truck. He encounters a pinball-headed figure dressed in silver standing in the road, and stops. The two are surrounded by more similar figures, and the group starts dancing.  This spot has been called “funny but weird.”

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