“I am me” declares actress in video for department stores that’s sparking debate and controversy.

With December winding down and the new year on the way, jointly owned Japanese department store chains Seibu and Sogo released a new advertisement starring actress Sakura Ando. As you might expect for an ad first shown on December 31, the video takes some time to pontificate about the future, but what’s surprising is that it starts off with Ando boldly asking:

“We don’t need an Age of Women, do we?”

The camera then cuts from a close-up of Ando’s mouth to a shot of her back as she’s striding away…and then plates of whipped cream start flying at her.

As a couple of near-misses whiz past her, Ando continues her determined voice-over.

“Being forced to do something because you’re a woman.
Being ignored because you’re a woman.
Being marked down because you’re a woman.
Having the news talk about how difficult it is to live as a woman.
Every time those things happen, the ‘Age of Women’ gets pushed farther away.”

And then she takes a plate of cream full-on in the face.

Meanwhile, her narration goes on:

“’This year, finally, things are going to change!’
Really? Can we count on that happening?
‘Be active! Forge ahead!’
If you’re going to keep crowing about the ‘Age of Women,’ then we think it’s fine if it never comes.”

“At the center of this age, there are neither men nor women.
I want to praise myself for being me.
The age that should be coming, the age that we all make for ourselves, is the ‘Age of Me.’

After Ando coughs up a mouthful of forcefully inserted cream, she asks the camera “Don’t you get excited just thinking about it?”, before a final shot of her wiping cream from her eyes and delivering the ad’s tagline: “I am me.”

It’s an unusual ad, even by Japanese standards, and also a confusing one. While it starts with the 32-year-old Ando proclaiming an “Age of Women” to be unnecessary, it then seems to lament societal attitudes and discourse that prevent such an age from starting, before shifting gears yet again to focus on a purely personal vision of fulfillment, absent of any demographic connections. And then, of course, there’s the plates of cream being tossed at a woman whose narration starts off by downplaying the importance of a common rallying cry for greater opportunities for women.

As such, the ad is generating controversy in Japan, with online criticisms including:

“This ad makes me feel very uncomfortable.”
“I can’t imagine what they were trying to accomplish with those visuals.”
“It’s weird how she’s just standing there and taking it.”
“The whole thing is just vague and gross.”
“I guess they were going for some sort of deep message, but it hasn’t reached me at all.”

Then there’s the contingent of commenters who see some sort of connection to the adult film term “cream pie,” though, as others pointed out, there’s no pie to be seen in the commercial, just plate after plate of pie-less cream.

On the other side of the debate are those who see an admirable intent in the ad’s declaration of the importance of individual happiness and satisfaction, which is far from the default philosophy in the-group-comes-first Japan. Many of them see the plates of cream being flung at Ando as visual metaphors for the unreasonable, unpleasant things that life tosses at all of us from time to time. To the ad’s defenders, Ando’s unflinching stoicism as she keeps moving forward, as well as the way she picks herself up and cleans herself off after a wad of cream inevitably hits her, is an inspiring mixture of strength and beauty, leading to comments like:

“I think this is a seriously cool video.”
“She’s showing that she won’t be beat by the dumb things that happen in society, and smiling bravely, showing how tough she is.”
“I love ads like this, where you have to pay attention until the very end to get the complete message.”

Perhaps Seibu/Sogo could have made things clearer with a bit more congruent editing. After Ando asks “Don’t you get excited just thinking about it?” and flashes a confident smile, the very last image is once again one of her with cream on her face, and the commercial ends before we see her take another step forward. A few more seconds, showing that Ando isn’t going to be stopped no matter what gets slung at her, might have provided a more concrete display that the company believes in the power of individuals, be they women or men, to achieve their dreams.

Sources: YouTube/西武・そごう チャンネル, Twitter/西武そごう
Images: YouTube/西武・そごう チャンネル
[ Read in Japanese ]