The Big Picture

  • Harrison Ford’s Japanese beer commercials are a treasure trove of golden content, featuring him in peculiar situations and embodying a playful and joyful side that is different from his usual persona.
  • The commercials highlight the distinct Japanese approach to advertising, with premises that break away from traditional ideas and incorporate humor and entertainment that may be challenging for Western audiences to fully grasp.
  • These commercials offer a glimpse into the cultural significance of Harrison Ford’s involvement, bridging the gap between Western and Japanese markets, and showcasing the international appeal and perception of Hollywood icons like Ford.

We all know and love Harrison Ford for multiple reasons. Not only did he bring some of our favorite characters to life, but he also has a very distinct persona off-screen, bringing us laughter and joy with his love for movies and attitude toward fandom culture. He goes from extremely passionate about, for example, Indiana Jones to a complete disregard for Star Wars, but never being disrespectful and always making it clear he doesn’t take himself that seriously, too — he’s just working.

If that weren’t enough to make us love him, we recently stumbled upon a series of incredibly funny commercials he made for the Japanese beer brand Kirin Lager in the 1990s, and they are simply delightful.

Related: This Is The Performance Harrison Ford Is Most Embarrassed By

What Are Harrison Ford’s Japanese Beer Commercials About?

Harrison Ford being in Japan to advertise beer is nothing out of this world, especially because he was doing so for Kirin, one of the most traditional brands in the country and with a big international market, as well. And, given the brand’s reach, it makes sense for them to bet on a star at the height of their fame like Ford was in the 1990s. He was already a legend, having starred in Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Blade Runner, and on his way to starring in classics like The Fugitive and Air Force One, so he’s instantly recognizable.

What makes this series of commercials a treasure trove of golden content is the distinct Japanese method of advertising, with premises that put Ford in many peculiar situations. The first of them is a more traditional one, simply having him walk into a traditional Japanese restaurant and order beer, and even calling the bartender’s attention to the specific beer he wants, in near-perfect Japanese pronunciation and intonation. In this one, he’s clearly a foreigner, the only person dressed in a shirt and tie and even making a comment in English at the end, marveling to himself at the fact that everybody drinks the same beer.

How Many Japanese Ads Did Harrison Ford Make?

Harrison Ford's Kirin Beers ads
Image via Kirin Beer, YouTube

But that wasn’t the only one he made! Harrison Ford appeared in a number of television and print ads for Kirin beer in the mid-’90s, with all of them breaking from the initial commercial spot’s concept. After the one in the bar, the Japanese ads each have Ford longing for some beer in common situations but made with the typical Japanese approach. Perhaps the most accessible one to us shows Ford at a sunny Japanese beach ordering a beer at a kiosk, and bugging the vendor for a bottle opener and glass, all to the sound of a marching band tune. Next, Ford is lost in the woods while on a hike with his friends. When he finally finds them, they are worried about the missing beer and are glad to see him. But the best segment is the last one. Ford is enjoying a steamy sauna when he says that he would really like a beer right now (or at least that’s what one can imply from the context), to which the other man there picks up a bottle of imaginary beer and fills a cup with it, making all the sounds the act itself would. Ford appreciates the pantomime and asks for his own cup to be filled, but the two of them suddenly get actually thirsty and run out of the sauna to have some actual beer.

The whole advertisement campaign also has shorter TV spots and posters, all showing Ford as a talking head drinking a can of beer rather enthusiastically. These pieces must have become a sort of collector’s item, but they certainly carry a lot of cultural significance. Ford starring in wacky Japanese beer commercials? That’s the whole zeitgeist of the 1990s right there.

Why Are These Japanese Commercials So Fun?

Japanese television is really a gift that keeps on giving. It brings a very distinct approach to humor, entertainment, and fame, which has always proven to be challenging for Western audiences — especially, when celebrities participate in TV programs and talk shows. There’s a long history of Hollywood icons in Japanese commercials, from Francis Ford Coppola starring in a whiskey commercial with Akira Kurosawa to Charles Bronson advertising a brand of male toiletry products, and all of them are very different from the advertisement approach we’re used to seeing here. In fact, whole movies were made using these cultural differences as a premise, like Sofia Coppola‘s classic Lost in Translation, in which Bill Murray‘s character is in Tokyo to film a series of whiskey ads that make no sense to him.

The Japanese industry and market have a rather idealized view of their Western counterparts, as much as we have from them, too. Not everyone is able to bridge this cultural gap without minding all these differences that go both ways, so when we talk about how funny a Japanese commercial for beer starring Harrison Ford is, we have to understand that these pieces are mostly about what they perceive to be appealing internationally, whether it’s funny or even downright wacky like the videos come across. For example, it’s impossible to conceive that he would have young Japanese friends or would be in any of these contexts so casually and perceived as if he were Japanese himself.

How These Kirin Beer Ads Play to Harrison Ford’s Personality

Harrison Ford playing the saxophone in The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles
Image via ABC

Knowing Ford as well as we do (and even that is just what he shows us through his public presence), we can’t help but laugh at those commercials. Without them, it would be impossible to imagine him doing the things he’s actually doing there, with the quirky attitude he’s sporting. We know him to have this effortless gravitas while also being rather shy and even socially awkward, so the joyful behavior he displays here is a whole different side to what imagine Ford to be like. But it’s really a role he’s playing. He has no problem admitting he doesn’t take himself that seriously, like going to talk shows dressed as a hot dog, for example, while keeping a straight face, but it’s still weird for us to see him being openly playful like this.

All that said, these ads are definitely funny to us. Can anyone even conceive the notion of a shirtless Ford in a sauna drinking imaginary beer in a pantomime? If it weren’t for them, these gems would simply not exist, because that’s not something anyone without a Japanese view of advertising would think of. And we needed it, because, come on! We’ve seen Ford shatter a Lego model of the Millennium Falcon, tell Collider‘s own Steve Weintraub how he doesn’t care if Han Solo shot first and have a fight with Chewbacca in a live talk show. But add him into the mix of a sauna, and it’s something we never knew we needed, so thank you, Kirin beer.

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By mrtrv