Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

When Hollywood comes to Tokyo

May 7, 2009

Attending a media conference given by a Hollywood star in Tokyo is often more of an exercise for the shoulder muscles than journalistic instincts. If you are obviously not Japanese, you can sit right up front and raise your hand as far and fast as you like, but chances are the MC will not pick on you to ask a question.

I got back from a news conference where Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard were promoting their new film “Angels and Demons” nursing a familiar sore shoulder, but not the pithy quotes I had hoped for about the Vatican’s reaction to a movie some Catholics see as offensive.


Movie distributors deny there is any policy of discouraging questions by the foreign media here.

“I wasn’t there, but probably there were just too many people with their hands up,” an employee in the marketing division at Sony Pictures told me.

Anxiousness to protect foreign visitors from any potential embarassment is perhaps among the reasons why Japanese reporters — whose questions often revolve around the stars’ sushi preferences — are favoured over those who want to dig deeper.

Just as in the movie “Lost in Translation”, visiting stars are shielded from criticism and often seem to feel free to do things they might not risk at home.

Appearances by foreign stars in TV commercials have tailed off somewhat along with the decline in Japan’s economic might. But Brad Pitt has recently starred in a series of slapstick commercials for mobile phone company Softbank. Tommy Lee Jones has a long-running gig as an alien who drinks Japanese canned coffee whenever things go wrong, while George Clooney is more often seen on Japanese TV screens driving a Toyota than in any of his movie or television incarnations.

Performers’ appearances go beyond commercials. Beyonce not only dances to promote mineral water, but last year appeared on a TV variety show alongside a bizarre Japanese impersonator.  Catherine Zeta Jones has been seen disagreeing vehemently with Japan’s most famous TV fortune-teller, and Cameron Diaz and Jude Law are among a long line of celebrities who have acted as judges on a TV cookery show.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Michael Caronna

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