Japanese commercials are notorious for being outrageous. Some are filled with so many mind-altering graphics and seizure-inducing frames-per-second, they could leave even Zack Synder with a Spartan-sized identity crisis.
We bring this up because a recent Cup Noodles commercial—yes, your favorite instant ramen—just hit the airwaves and it's making us scratch our heads and ask this important question: Is there a limit to the cumulative weirdness one human can absorb in a 30-second time span?
This particular Cup Noodles commercial starts off harmlessly enough, with superstar Japanese actor Takeru Satoh seated at a run-of-the-mill table and taking a bite from a seemingly normal Cup Noodle. That is until a grand total of three seconds pass and everything you knew to be true is obliterated from your now rancid gourd. Don't even attempt to hold onto a basic semblance of rationality, because the 30-second noodle spot is so mind-numbingly subversive, it could make even a serape-clad Andy Dick break into a cold sweat.
So what happens next? Well, Satoh, seemingly powered up with the nutritional goodness of MSG and powdered chicken flavorant, is propelled into a meteor field where he deftly ambles from one fiery meteor to the next before transforming before our very eyes into a ramen-centric mecha, complete with a five-person Power Ranger style team or sentai (and yes, they are all played by Satoh).
Don't think it ends there, because Satoh is soon thereafter ejected from the gargantuan and flies skyward, a la Dragon Ball, only to be propelled onto the glistening, virginal shores of some magical noodle ocean, which is then turned into a drove of human-faced, ramen horses and some sort of anthropomorphic human-race car.
If that weren't enough, the commercial climaxes as Satoh is propelled into outer space and eventually swallowed by a dehydrated chicken bit that has his very own face before appearing front and center in a crowded concert hall and triumphantly holding up a Cup Noodles for his adoring fans. He loudly proclaims "umai!" or good tasting.
It's strange, but on the Japanese-commercial scale of 1 equals weird to 10 equals incomprehensible, I'd say it ranks around a 6 or 7. But how about this brain busting canned coffee commercial for beverage giant Suntory starring none other than Tommy Lee Jones as an interdimensional observer in the guise of a teacher? Screw film and television—adapting franchises into commercials is so totally in.
Apparently, Japanese advertising culture lives on the outrageousness of its ads. If you think New York has a crazy Mad Men-style advertising culture, you should see what goes on in Japan.
Their advertising culture prizes the newest and latest and is largely driven by celebrity. According to one expert, "over 80 percent of all Japanese TV commercial feature Japanese celebs." Ad agencies in Japan have achieved a level of notoriety that Don Draper can only dream of.
Take, for example, Dentsu Inc., which is not only the largest ad agency in Japan, it's supposedly the largest in the world. They are a company that has produced countless hit ad campaigns; they also produced the first television commercial to air in Japan along with the first newspaper ad.
Dentsu may, in fact, have shaken prime ministers. Some allege that Dentsu was involved in a scandal a few years ago involving Shinzo Abe, then Prime Minister of Japan. It was revealed that the Japanese government had been holding town hall meetings with paid actors planted in the audiences. Did Dentsu orchestrate the whole embarrassing thing?
In any event, commercials have been central to the Cup Noodles story for as long as it has been around. A man named Momofuku Ando invented Cup Noodles in 1958. Forty-seven and penniless, he built a lab in his backyard to try to develop a noodle that could be cooked instantly. When he realized that pre-frying the noodles did the trick, he knew he was on to something.
But it was the first television commercial for "Chicken Ramen," featuring a group of little hooded cartoon characters who went on adventures together, that did the trick. That and many other commercials have made Cup Noodles what they are today: the number one instant noodle in Japan, with 51 percent of the market and sales of over $4 billion annually.
It's good to be number one. When you're number one at something, you can take a chance, right? Do something crazy… go out on a limb.
Which is exactly what Nissin has done with its latest Cup Noodles commercial.
Unless you think a human-faced horse with a Cup Noodles hat is just another of God's miraculous creatures.