Acccording to a poll carried out by the Institute for Advertising Research Softbank’s Shirato Family series of commercials have been voted most popular with Japanese audiences for the third year running. To decide the nation’s favorite ad, the institute interviewed 3,000 respondents, ages 6 to 89. The campaigns in second and third place also came from cell-phone companies: KDDI and NTT DoCoMo, respectively. Fourth place went to Lotte for their extremely successful Fit’s viral-video dance campaign, which featured a catchy song-and-dance routine and challenged viewers to perform the dance themselves and upload it to YouTube.

Much of the success of the Shirato campaign has been attributed to the charms of pop idol/actress Aya Ueto (who plays the family’s younger sister character), but what really makes the commercials stand out is that, despite its depiction of a “typical” Japanese family, the women rule the roost, otousan (father) just happens to be a white dog and onisan (elder brother) is played by African-American actor Dante Carver.

Foreigners are traditionally depicted in advertisements in Japan as being set apart from cultural mores of Japanese society (and even though he loves Japan, McDonald’s Mr. James is no exception). In most case the foreigners behave outrageously, often to comic effect. Softbank’s onisan, however, is very much a part of the family, speaking fluent Japanese, teasing onesan about her boyfriends and even dreaming of overseas travel to exotic places like Hawaii. As for the dog, the joke is that despite his gruff and strict tone, otousan is soooooo cute.

This is pure conjecture, of course, but we wonder whether the concept for the family came from Softbank’s CEO, Masayoshi Son, who despite being third-generation Korean wasn’t officially considered Japanese until his family adopted the Japanese name Yasumoto. Japanese with Korean ethnicity often face discrimination in Japan, so the commercial could be seen as a having a little fun with the whole concept of what it means to be Japanese. Despite discrimination that he faced when first trying to set up his business, Son has became hugely successful  and is now the richest man in Japan.

Another gaijin face also appeared in the series recently: Quentin Tarantino playing the part of uncle Tara. Wearing a traditional Japanese attrie Tarantino waves his arms around and screeches “Samurai spirit” before his scary blond wife summons him on the dog speaker-phone to get his butt home pronto, at which point he bows and apologizes. The joke being that the ferocious samurai is obviously henpecked, thus inverting more traditional Japanese values (and it dovetails nicely with Tarantino’s own girl power aesthetic). While some people have suggested this performance might be beneath the dignity of America’s great auteur, we wager that Tarantino, a hardcore Japanophile, was probably chuffed to make an appearance in Japan’s most popular commercial.

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