You know you’ve genuinely cemented a place in popular culture when you spawn a TV parody, though perhaps there can be no cheaper a spoof than one mustered up by the folk behind the ubiquitous commercials in Japan’s competitive beer industry.
The latest television advertisement for Sapporo+ is inspired by the campaigning style of disbanded student activist group SEALDs, which was the one of the most prominent elements of the 2015 mass protests against the controversial state security bills that permitted Japan to send combat troops overseas.
Themed around a fictional Gohan-tō (Food Party), the commercial shows “activists” dressed in SEALDs-esque t-shirts and chanting à la the rapping call-and-response manner the students made famous in those heady days 18 months ago.
In mock protest-speak, the campaign is called “Tsudoe! Gohan-tō.” (literally, “Assemble! Food Party”). It portrays a regular salaryman sitting down after work with a bowl of salad. On his television a reporter introduces the eponymous “much talked-about” party, who are demonstrating on the street. Just like SEALDs’ overtly cosmopolitan use of English, their t-shirts feature images of food with Japanese names written in Roman alphabet while they hold signs printed in pop colours with a mix of English and Japanese phrases. Not only the design of their clothes and placards, the appearance of the activists also imitates SEALDs, fronted by metropolitan, stylish youth and even at least one seemingly mixed-race member.
The salaryman is bemused by the news report, only to look up and find his home suddenly filled with the very same activists in front of him, microphone and placards at the ready. The main activist — a stand-in for de facto SEALDs leader Aki Okuda — starts calling out slogans into a microphone, which are met with responses and applause from his fellow demonstrators. He asks the salaryman, who has only a meagre salad in front of him for his dinner, if he is abstaining from eating a full meal.
A street-party-cum-protest then breaks out, with a DJ playing music and the protestors dancing as they chant. Others bring in rice cookers and hold up cans of the new Sapporo+. The salaryman is presented with a generous, glistening bowl of katsudon. Since the beer is healthy (no sugar, alcohol or calories), the campaign is telling people they can still eat fully balanced meals rather than worrying about getting fat. It launched on January 1st, since New Year in Japan is a period during which people often worry about eating too much and make resolutions to go on diets.
In the same way that AKB48 bizarrely appropriated Zenkyōtō and post-war Japanese student activism for a music video last spring, this somewhat belated parodic treatment of SEALDs for a TV commercial would seem to represent the further passage of the student group from a functioning movement into the domain of popular memory, where it is fair game.