One was born in the heart of Texas and the other in Fukuoka. One studied in Harvard where he excelled in various fields and the other merely made it to Waseda from which he dropped out. One immediately focused in acting and the other did various odd jobs until a manga creator (Akatsuka Fujio) spotted his talent and nudged him towards television. One played (and keeps playing) many different roles that have won him almost all awards in the international show business and the other played (and keeps playing) himself. Besides their small age difference (just one year) and their longevity in showbiz it’s hard to find other similarities between Tommy Lee Jones and Kazuyoshi Morita (aka “Tamori”) and this makes a lot of people wonder what brought them together in the latest advertising campaign for Suntory’s “Boss” coffee.
Tamori is one of the three “superpowers” of Japanese improvised comedy TV; this is enough to grant him the popularity a company needs to promote its products. But especially in the case of “Boss” coffee, the home advantage is with Tommy Lee Jones who has been the spokesman for the particular brand since 2006 and has starred in almost 40 ad spots; anyone who has visited Japan in the last eight years has certainly seen him at least one time and probably more. As for the reason that made Jones successful in the particular advertisement, it is the same that explains this year’s Tamori addition: they are both emblematic “oji-san” (おじさん), a word that literally translates as “uncle” but which is metaphorically used to describe any middle-aged man, Japan’s most powerful social class.
Although Japanese society adores adolescence it considers, perhaps because of its Confucian past, the oji-san as one of its most important elements: like the oba-san (or obachan) middle aged men have conquered a respectable position in their jobs and their families (the choice of “Boss” as a brand name for Jones’ and Tamori’s coffee was not random) they have raised their children, they have enough money to be able to enjoy something more than things related to their work environment. And in doing all these, they have gathered enough stock in life experience and knowledge so they can contribute to their environment, the immediate and the broader, social one; in other words, they are, as the cliché goes, the pillars of society.
Because nothing has only one side, oji-san are also the obnoxious know-alls who have seen everything, have done everything and they don’t miss a chance to remind you of the fact with the gravity of their opinion, the annoying uncles who tell unfunny jokes and make bad puns (also called “oyaji-gyagu”/親父ギャグ, “oyaji” being a less respectful synonym for “oji-san”), the sexist seniors at work and the politicians who led the country to two decades of recession, the oppressive husbands and fathers –the personification of conservatism that is at the same time the cornerstone and the Achilles’s Heel of Japanese society. That the Jones-Tamori advertisement launched a few days ago shows this will take some time before oji-san loses his place in the Japanese collective consciousness but his days of glory have probably passed –with all the good and the bad this entails.
Grigoris A. Miliaresis is a journalist and translator. He has worked for many newspapers, magazines and publishing houses and specializes in the Internet, the martial arts and Japan where he has been living for the last few years.