While Tommy Lee Jones is best known for his work in film and television, his recent career has centered on a more noble pursuit: helping sell Boss canned coffee to Japanese audiences. Since 2006, Jones has regularly appeared in Boss’s advertisements, lending his perpetually unamused mug and Oscar-nominated acting chops to commercials telling people about a brand of coffee they might enjoy.
Well, now he’s back, ringing in the nation’s entrance to a new imperial era by looking back over the 30 years of now-abdicated Emperor Akihito’s Heisei era with one of the most bewildering entries to his Boss oeuvre to date.
It’s best to watch the clip without context first, allowing yourself to experience the unfiltered mystery of Jones moving from job to job—train conductor, karaoke bar manager, construction foreman, astronaut, sumo referee, several types of bizarre creatures—while weeping and holding cans of coffee. Why does he have these jobs? Is Jones’ character yet another victim of the gig economy, crying over his economic precarity? How do we explain the metallic ear cover that snaps into place in one scene ... or the superpowers he gains while delivering pizza, running marathons, or working as a demonic police officer?
Desperate to unravel the puzzle, freelance writer and AV Club contributor Emma Kidwell, provided translation notes and a link to a story from Sora News 24 that explains, somehow, the commercial’s premise. Basically, Boss has been running ads for more than a decade in which Jones plays an undercover alien sent to research humanity. The one above is a sort of greatest hits that pulls from prior spots and was specially created to honor the end of the Heisei era.
Only airing last night—the last day of Akihito’s reign—the ad is meant to be a nostalgia piece tied together by memories of older commercials tracking, as the Sora News article puts it, “the social quirks and achievements seen by Alien Jones on this planet during the Heisei period.” Y’know, basic coffee advertisement stuff.
Though these explanations do a bit to demystify Jones’ exceptional work, they do highlight how unimaginative and joyless North American ad campaigns are in comparison. Why don’t we get famous actors with CGI superpowers silently crying over memories of the past when Starbucks rolls out limited time holiday coffee?
No wonder Jones has remained loyal to Boss for so long. Actors need to be challenged to stay fulfilled and our advertisers are failing them by not providing roles as compelling as “deeply emotional coffee alien.”
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