Monday, August 05, 2013

The Cursed Kleenex Commercial

I shy away from pronouncements such as “Japanese culture is so weird!” because I’ve come to associate them with a sheltered sort of person who uses the “W”-word as a put-down for anything that’s different than what they’ve come to expect. Examples: “Ew. They eat bugs over there? That’s weird!” or “Their god has an elephant head? That’s weird!” or “They put it where? That’s weird!” But “weird” is nonetheless the word that comes to mind when I read Wikipedia’s list of Japanese urban legends. The layering of the horrific on the absurd on the mundane adds up to something I don’t have another word to describe.

Of all the Japanese urban legends described in the Wikipedia list, the strangest has to be the Kleenex commercial that viewers found disturbing. It is weird, and of this I am certain. But I’m puzzled as to why people would have found it disturbing to the point that they circulated rumors that the actress died, was institutionalized or gave birth to a demon baby. Watching it, I’m unable to explain why Japanese people would have been that disturbed by it, to say nothing of why they would have imagined that the featured song — the original, pared-down version of “It’s a Fine Day,” before it became a club anthem — sounded like a curse, German or otherwise.

Here’s the video (via Pink Tentacle):


A few questions:
  • It is it disturbing simply because it features a child dressed up like a Japanese oni?
  • It is disturbing because the Japanese oni looks a hell of a lot like an Oompa-Loompa?
  • Is it disturbing because it’s in slow motion, and that suggests some weird dreamy version of normal life?
  • Is it disturbing because WHERE IS THE FUCKING TISSUE FLOATING OFF TO? Is Keiko LITTERING?
  • Is it disturbing because the content of the commercial — an angelic woman hanging out with a demonic child — stands in such stark contrast to the very ordinary content of the song? Or are the lyrics completely irrelevant, because so many Japanese viewers apparently thought the song was in German and therefore couldn’t have understood the English lyrics?
  • What does the red background add?
  • Why do I have goosebumps right now?
  • Is it disturbing because they are sitting on haybales? I mean, buy some furniture, Keiko.
But really, what do you think? I am eager to hear someone else’s opinion on this might be.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:35 AM

    It's only scary because the child is dressed up like a monster, even if he's a cute monster. It's the only part that isn't explained. Or at least that's how it seems to this American.

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    1. I feel like that's pretty straightforward. There might be something more subtle at work here that's driving this thing over the edge.

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  2. Fertal10:23 PM

    The song makes it creepy because why would she be singing about every stupid little thing other than to cover up something awful?

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    1. This is perhaps a good point. It's almost like someone walking around, telling themselves, "Everything is okay. Everything is okay..."

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  3. 'I mean, buy some furniture, Keiko.' HAHAHAHAHA I love it (:

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    1. BTW, that actress's name is actually Keiko.

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  4. Anonymous1:46 PM

    The song is disturbing because it's written in a minor key. The lyrics, however, are sweet and sunny in a way that would make more sense with a major key.

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    1. This may be the point I was looking for. I didn't think of that, but you're right. The sound doesn't match up with the blandly happy lyrics. What an odd choice.

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  5. That's... yes, weird. Maybe even for Japanese culture, and I rather love the "weirdness" of Japanese culture, so that's not a put-down. But I think there is just enough of the elements of Japanese notions about the demonic in this commercial for it to be disturbing: the oni-like, surly child; the fact the two actors don't really look at each other; the "minor key" effect which makes the seemingly cheerful words uncanny (as someone noted above); and the fact that traditionally, white is a colour of mourning and death and the supernatural. (Only with the advent of Christianity and western ideas in Japan that white became more of a neutral, wedding-dress kind of colour. Except there are no traditional Japanese wedding dresses in white, which is interesting.) In fact uncanny is a good word for it: maybe the ad was going for "peaceful" or "soothing", but it actually creates a somewhat Hitchcockian sense of suspense. I watched it twice and it's only getting creepier and creepier. At any rate, nice find. :)

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