Behold the bonkers trippiness of these Yellow Hat commercials

Yellow Hat Mitsubishi Debonair ad

Yellow Hat is a nationwide Japanese chain of auto service stores whose ad agency has clearly huffed one exhaust molecule too many. The completely Mr Sparkle-ized ads exist ostensibly to notify you of Yellow Hat’s tire and battery services, but the execution is a seizure-inducing, brain-melting onslaught of hyperkinetic cuts, dancing girls, pop music so sugary it’ll give you cavities, and the occasional nostalgic car. 

The basic formula is this: a vaguely retro setting such as a late-1970s game show stage, three synchronized dancers that bop spastically as if Manny, Moe and Jack were kidnapped by aliens and replaced by fembots, a song that’s part earworm jingle and part camp, and a quick cut to a mechanic torquing down a lugnut on an old car.

Here’s one whose visuals say late-1960s go-go flair, but whose music recalls a Bubble Era pop anthem — all while reminding us that “you can buy a battery too!” for your Mitsubishi Debonair.

Another one takes the same song but remixes it with early-90s rap bravado and a C2 Corvette. With some Japanese lines now translated to English, we can understand that they were was saying “You can change your oil and your battery too!”

Older Yellow Hat commercials lack the arresting stylized visuals, but you can see how they may have evolved. Instead of three synchronized female dancers, a trio of salarymen practice their golf swing in unison. A woman in a yellow hat randomly appears. A closeup of the mechanic with the torque wrench is inserted, but the car is modern. And of course, great tire deals abound.

Another one from the same era features breakdancers grooving in front of a different Corvette, this time a 1957 model. The production value was, um, primitive to say the least — there are amateur YouTube videos that look more produced. Believe it or not, this ad has sparked a raging online war between Japanese and Korean dance aficionados over whether Psy of “Gangnam Style” fame ripped off his trademark horse dance from the Yellow Hat crew.

[Note: the original ad has been taken down, but the above video has it at 5:41] Lastly, we arrive at the Yellow Hat commercial’s final boss form. It’s as if the Yellow Hat ad was an art form all its own, some prodigy of the craft spent his life studying the ones that had come before, disappeared to a drug-fueled retreat for a decade, and then emerged triumphant with a seminal work transcending the genre.

Yellow Hat Isuzu Bellett ad

The moving images are so surreal they depart the mortal plane of advertising and enter the realm of the sublime. Watch this spot 20 times and you’ll notice something new with each viewing. The machine-gun cuts are quicker than ever, the song more icepick-to-the-frontal-lobe-y by several orders of magnitude, and the titular yellow hats are now comically small. There are massive shoulder pads, a tire that is also a cat, and an Isuzu Bellett.

And that’s just the first four seconds. It’s hard to say when the spot goes meta, or morphs into some sort of absurd non-narrative parody. Is it the moment when the dancers’ ever-grinning faces appear on their own oversized blazers? Or when the one on the end inexplicably floats away, not to be seen again? (It was always supposed to be three! That was the bargain, dammit!) We cannot attempt an explanation, except to say that a postmodern masterpiece has been achieved. Someone put this in the MoMA’s permanent collection right now.


Thanks (or curses) to Chris Nicholson for sending me down this rabbit hole.

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24 Responses to Behold the bonkers trippiness of these Yellow Hat commercials

  1. 90s kid says:

    I will never look at a yellow hat the same way again.

  2. John Moran says:

    Initially, wasn’t sure where it was going – Kato meets Merv Griffin meets Farmersonly meets the movie critics from In Living Color. Ended up really enjoying the writing and the spots. Turned out to be all that and a battery, too!

  3. The car in the first ad is a Mark I Austin-Healey Sprite. Curiously, it’s a left-hand-drive model, which makes me wonder if this commercial wasn’t shot here in the States.

    • Ben Hsu says:

      You’ve spotted the least bizarre thing in the ads. LHD cars are common in Japan, especially on imports. So common that most toll plazas have at least one mirror-image booth for LHD cars.

    • Nakazoto says:

      I’m fairly certain that’s a Mark I or Mark II MG Midget actually. Some of the Midgets came with the big side marker on the front there, which may have been a destination specific thing. Now it definitely looks LHD, but that’s not actually uncommon for British cars in Japan to be LHD. There were very high production numbers of old British roadsters in LHD trim for the US. Dealers will often pick these up for cheap and then import them into Japan.

      • I rolled the dice on guessing “Sprite” instead of “Midget,” and I actually thought to myself “Someone’s going to call me out on getting this wrong because of some arcane detail like a differing side-marker.”

  4. Censport says:

    I’m sure you’ll figure out a way to get me back. 😀

  5. Brett says:

    Works for me; I’d buy my tyres from them.

  6. Randy says:

    Strange, but better than a lot of ads – for MOST things… Too bad they don’t have a chain here – or at least that the other companies don’t do ads like this.

    The male models are using a torque wrench! There’s ONE shop I know of around me that uses them; even the DEALERS don’t. So I guess that “ratchets” them up in my opinion! 🙂

  7. Parrot says:

    I am so buying my next set of tyres from Yellow Hato. Don’t care if I have to go to Japan to do so.

  8. Nakazoto says:

    The Bellett looks surprisingly good in Yellow Hat yellow!

  9. Kurt says:

    What kind of name is Yellow Hat anyway…

  10. Mark says:

    I already had Autobacs on my list when I visit Japan, now I’m adding Yellow Hat.

  11. MementoMori says:

    This made my day. Never had a car in Japan, but definitely saw my share of Yellow Hats around.

  12. stace says:

    Tires, who cares. Those girls are hot.

  13. Skorj says:

    I have to go to Joyful Honda, Don Quixote, and Rico Land now, but not sure I can drive past my local Yellow Hat without stopping as well… Damn!

  14. Dimas says:

    Just come back to the site after about two years away scroll to some older post and saw this. Gotta say you guys got a nice humor if not the best humor taste, the title, the way the content describe, the writing are very funny and nerdy its too much.

    Honestly i haven’t healed from the nissan fairlady zuke zuke zuke drowned in your own drool post and now this.


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