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(Credit: Kurosawa)


The whiskey adverts made by Akira Kurosawa and Francis Ford Coppola


“The world’s gaze is fixed on these two men right now, as on nobody else.”

In Lost in Translation, Bill Murray’s character Bob Harris arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory whiskey, beginning the initial difficulties of the film’s title. The extensive direction given by the director is translated into extremely brief snippets, confusing Bob and introducing the film’s themes of disillusionment, faded glory, and confusion.

The film’s director, Sofia Coppola, took some real life inspiration for the scene. Suntory is a real Japanese brewing and distilling company, and during the ’70s they took the unusual step of hiring Western celebrities to market their product. One of those celebrities was her father, Francis Ford Coppola, who did an advert with legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa in 1980.

Kurosawa had made a small number of commercials for Suntory featuring celebrities on the set of his 1980 film Kagemusha. Coppola, who was an executive producer of the film, had just come off of the success Apocalypse Now, and through his additional work on The Godfather, was deemed a suitably recognisable name for Japanese audiences.

Exploring the relationship of what might have been cinema’s most creative friendship, Francis Ford Coppola and Akira Kurosawa were always there to support each other. In 1979, Coppola was recovering from what had been a somewhat traumatic few years planning and filming his epic war film Apocalypse Now. After battling monsoon and severe weather conditions, cast member breakdowns, financial problems and Martin Sheen, a lead actor in the project suffering a near-fatal heart attack, Coppola was tasked with working his way through the mountains of footage in post-production.

However, at the same time as this was happening, Coppola had discovered that his friend, Akira Kurosawa, was struggling financially after his previous two projects, Dodeskaden and Dersu Uzala, had dramatically flopped at the box office.

Undeterred by his current workload, Coppola met up with Star Wars and Indiana Jones creator George Lucas and hatched a plan. Knowing of Kurosawa’s brilliance and learning about his planned film Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior, Lucas and Coppola approached 20th Century Fox and urged them to back Kurosawa and invest the money in his next project. As insurance, they both promised to act as executive producers on Kagemusha to give it some more weight, and, of course, it worked.

Kurosawa’s film, which tells the story of a petty thief who is recruited to impersonate an ageing warlord, went on to be a critical and commercial success which won the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival and was subsequently nominated for the Academy Award for ‘Best Foreign Language Film’.

Not content with helping Kurosawa finance his film, Coppola also agreed to appear in a series of commercials for Japanese whiskey company Suntory despite the fact that he didn’t drink. According to Open Culture, Kurosawa had previously worked with the company and, with Coppola involved, Suntory had promised him a $30,000 payday, so Coppola agreed to give him a helping hand.

The advertisement itself focuses on Kurosawa and Coppola going over stills the film while drinking whiskey. The voice-over describes them thusly: “The world’s gaze is fixed on these two men right now. There’s no stronger friendship than that between these two men.” It’s all very silly, and it’s not hard to see why Sophia looked to spoof it in her second feature film.

See the clips, below.