On a recent trip to Japan I was channel surfing in my hotel. I usually want to be out and about while traveling, but Japanese television is famous for its unique window into the culture and the pretty constant rain was keeping me in a little more than usual. I know no Japanese past domo arigato. When I watch the Japanese language programing, I am for all intents and purposes deaf to verbal language and taking in all of my information in body language, visual cues and sound effects.
I watched two programs this way, guessing what the details might be, when I happened upon Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino promoting “Inglorious Basterds” while acting as judges for a Japanese cooking show. I was rapt. Not only was this unique (serious understatement), I was able to understand much of what was being said.
American celebrities have long promoted products and shows in markets where their work is pretty much lost to American view. The movie “Lost in Translation” opens a window into that world. Once, they were able to promote products in a way that would appeal to a foreign market and never worry about the impression that might give to American viewer because they would never see it back home. Globalization is making that harder and everything is heard ’round the world these days. I can appreciate how making this kind of a promotional tour is a difficult balancing act.
Brad Pitt was amazing, a perfect guest. I was distracted a bit by the prominent goatee and the heavy processed look to his beard and hair. Later, I noticed on US tabloids, that this, in a slightly less processed form, was his current look. I was not so distracted that I failed to notice how well he negotiated the task at hand. He was polite and respectful with perfect poise and seemed both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. He was a complimentary and thorough judge of the food. Whether all of this was genuine, or whether he was acting, it was exactly what the occasion called for and it was fascinating.
Quentin Tarantino appeared to be completely at ease and a little hyper. He was enthusiastic about Japan and the food and completely without any appearance of self-consciousness. Tarantino is loved by peers, and all I could think as I watched was that if this man could be so successful, perhaps there was a place in the world for me too. Perhaps his presence was also a performance, a perfectly balanced contrast carefully contrived to appear anything but contrived.
The cooking show backstory with the flower filled backdrop was both substantive and superfluous. The food appeared to be 5-star from both contestants, but unlike most Japanese cooking shows, the camera was on the guest stars as the subject for almost all of the whirlwind program. There was a cutaway to a promo for the toy that shares one of the images with Tarantino above. I wondered if it was paid advertising. So far as I could tell, the sole prize for having won was promotional materials brought by Pitt and Tarantino.
One of the rewards of international travel is that you get to see ordinary everyday things through he prism of another culture. This program was the mother load in that respect. When two cultures interact this way, it reminds me of opposing mirrors with infinite reflections. Two months later I still remember a marketing promotion sought out to pass the time in a hotel room halfway ’round the world.