Nissan has a new flagship commercial in Japan, and it’s kind of a big deal. Not only does it star several greatest-hit classics from Nissan’s past, but the leading man is actor Takuya Kimura. The significance of this team-up can’t be overstated. Kimutaku, as he’s affectionately nicknamed, is like the Brad Pitt of Japan, and until recently, was a spokesperson for Toyota.
First, let’s take a look at the spot itself. It’s absolutely stunning. The production values are better than that of most Japanese TV shows, starting with dramatic shots of the Hakosuka Skyline driving on lonely mist-shrouded roads. Smash cut to a 1980s Nissan Safari hurtling through trails and rivers. Then, a beautiful Fairlady Z speeding through the rain — with a G-nose, of course, evoking Haruhi Yanagida’s legendary exploits at Fuji Speedway. It’s followed by an R32 Skyline GT-R speeding through a tunnel in true hashiriya fashion. Finally, there’s the new Ariya, the electric SUV that just debuted in Japan.
Reading between the lines, though, there’s a lot more to this ad than a bunch of pretty scenes with classic cars. I’m not fully immersed in Japanese pop culture, so I didn’t fully grasp the significance of Kimura’s role as Nissan’s new spokesperson. So, I’ll let Terry Yamaguchi, co-founder of the Japanese Classic Car Show, do the talking.
After the ad was released, she messaged me to say, “I was so moved by this commercial, for what Nissan wants to express… It’s HUUUUUGE when Kimutaku is in a TV commercial, and he drives a Hakosuka and Z and more!”
Kimura is an icon for all ages in Japan. There’s no one who doesn’t know who he is. He’s won dozens of acting awards, and is considered one one of the top actors in Japan. People follow his every move, including the fact that he has moved quite publicly from his role as a spokesperson for rival Toyota.
Kimura had been with Toyota since the debut of the original RAV4. His relationship with the Big T lasted 23 years, until April 2017. Perhaps notable to JNCers, in one of the ads Kimura finds himself behind the wheel of a Corolla Fielder wagon being chased by a fleet of drifting 2000GTs. So not only is he Brad Pitt, but the “Can you hear me now?” Verizon guy who became a Sprint Mobile spokesperson but with way less time in between.
Side note: He also appeared in a series of bizarre ads for Japan’s year-end lottery with Tetsuya Watari fully leaning into his Seibu Keisatsu persona and in which everyone’s a supermarionation puppet à la Thunderbirds.
And then there’s the words in the ad, which Terry translated:
There has never been a smooth road. We’ve stumbled many times and almost fell. But still, we never gave up. And, more than anyone, we have loved cars.
Adversity. Bring it on.
If the dawn won’t come while we wait, then we will go towards it.
Let’s go, once again. Do it, Nissan!
It’s a call to arms. It’s no secret Nissan has been plagued with scandals recently, with one CEO uncerimonously arrested and his replacement resigning less than a year later, both accused of shady financial misdeeds. That’s a big deal in Japan, and companies often have serious reactions to scandals there. The COVID-19 situation has only made things worse, and Nissan is expecting a second consecutive annual loss of more than $6 billion. Here’s a 30-second version of the ad with some different footage.
So, Kimura is essentially saying that Nissan will not give up, and showing that it’s aware of what made it great in the past and that they will continue to be great in the future.
It’s a bit difficult to wrap your head around all the cultural nuances, so imagine if, say, Chevrolet had been embroiled in some kind of high-profile scandal that everyone in America had heard about. A year later, suddenly Brad Pitt’s in a commercial driving a gorgeously shot 1969 Camaro Z/28, K5 Blazer, Corvette Stingray, and, I dunno, an Impala SS while talking about how Chevy is going to come even stronger than before. And the kicker is, everyone knows he’d been an ambassador for Ford for 23 years. Pitt would be using his reputation to endorse Chevy, and everyone would be talking about it.
Everyone in Japan’s talking about Kimura and Nissan, but it still raises the question, “Is it wise to spend a bunch of cash on a spokes-celeb when the company is in blood red financial troubles?” Terry explained that culturally, this is an impressive show of commitment by Nissan, a pledge to rise from the ashes and become a company Japan can be proud of again. If Nissan was a loser, there’s no way Kimura or his agency would let him do this ad.
At the end of the day I’m still not sure I fully understand, but I’ll take the word of an actual Japanese person that this is a good thing. At least we got a really lovely commercial out of it.