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Sly Ad Asks Japanese Businessman: Can You Fight 24 Hours?

January 2, 1990 GMT

TOKYO (AP) _ They are singing it, dancing it, acting it, even chanting it: ″Yellow and black are the sign of courage. Can you fight 24 hours? Businessman, businessman, Japanese businessman.″

Japan has gone wild over this catchy theme song to a television commercial for an energy-restoring health tonic called Regain.

Whether seen as an ode to the Japanese businessman or as a satire of his excesses, the Regain commercial has achieved a popularity akin to Wendy’s ″Where’s the Beef″ in the United States.

Companies play it over loudspeakers. Businessmen sing it at parties. Students dramatize it at culture festivals. Some Japanese even use it get out of bed every morning.

Sankyo Co., the drink manufacturer and Japan’s No. 2 drug maker, says that since the song was first broadcast in May his office has received 10 to 20 inquiries per day from people anxious to learn the lyrics.

The companies that have called Sankyo read like a list from a Who’s Who of the Tokyo Fortune 500: Nissan Motor Co., Nippon Life Insurance Co., Shiseido Co., Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp., Recruit Corp., Mitsui Toatsu Chemicals Inc., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Japan Airlines and many others.

Not only companies, but also the Economic Planning Agency, a police station and a city government office have requested copies of the song, Sankyo says.

Even students at prestigious Nada High School, perhaps anticipating the day when they too will join the ranks of Japan’s business elite, dramatized the song at a school fest.

The commercial features the swarthy young television star Saburo Tokito as a businessman stalking deals in foreign lands, keeping his strength up with the tonic drink.

In one version, Tokito is rowed through the canals of Venice to a ship. He climbs a rope ladder while belting out the song and is greeted on deck by executives waiting for him to sign a contract. They explode in applause, confetti and clicking cameras. Before the shot pans to the tonic bottle with its yellow-and-black label, there is a glimpse of a newspaper headline in English: ″Japanese Businessman Pulls it Off.″

A group of engineers at the Hitachi VLSI Device Development Center used three weeks of their overtime and weekends to adapt the Regain tune for a company song contest. In their version, businessmen wielding attache cases dance their way through crowded train stations and sexy barmaids - while singing about the trials of being a Hitachi businessman.


Why all the fuss?

Yukichi Amano, a well-known advertising critic, says the self-lampooning in the commercial has found a very receptive audience.

″Singing in loud voices with one’s comrades this obviously unrealistic, parodying, comic song fits the taste of today’s Japanese,″ he says, citing the absurdity of the song’s call to work 24 hours a day.

Tokito’s robot-like singing and expressionless face when kissed by a South Pacific beauty in one version of the commercial are jabs at the stereotypical overserious, overworked Japanese businessman, Amano says.

″That Japan has become the richest country in the world does not make Japanese truly happy. They love expressing their cynicism, even self-scorn.″

Jun Moriwaki, who was Regain’s commercial planner, says the ad was not originally designed to mock the businessman.

″We thought of it from the start as a pep song, that if you drink (Regain) you’d feel energetic again.″

Moriwaki says he and associates at Dentsu Inc., Japan’s biggest advertising firm, were looking to create a new image of the businessman, a new ″Japanese hero.″

″There’s a pattern to the Japanese who appear in Hollywood movies: with thick glasses and cameras hanging from their shoulders. We wanted to start off from there. If Tokito is the Japanese businessman, when he is with foreigners he would not cower; he would stand equal to them. To go one step further, he might even look down at them.″

To the 29-year-old Moriwaki, the image of the Japanese businessman who never takes a break has always been depressing: even when he goes home he is ignored by his wife who pays more attention to the kids. But Moriwaki says his peers, who are now filling the work force and at whom he is aiming the commercial, are different.

″When we work, we work very hard and don’t care about going without sleep to do our work. But when we rest, we insist on taking our vacations. The younger the person is, the better he is able to divide his life that way. These people just enjoy the commercial as a kind of joke.″

Some Japanese do not seem to have gotten the punch line, however.

Shortly after the song appeared, the Labor Ministry made an informal protest to Sankyo. Ministry officials wanted to make sure the sponsors of the commercial were not obstructing government efforts to get Japanese to work less hard.

End adv for Tuesday Jan. 2.