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Scarlett Johansson Is Selling Shampoo in Japan

Is the ‘Ghost in the Shell’ star bridging a divide?

Lux Official Japan
Lux Official Japan

In spring 2017, Scarlett Johansson will star in Hollywood’s controversial, white, live-action reboot of the classic Japanese anime Ghost in the Shell. In the meantime, Johansson stars in a new shampoo commercial. Specifically, it’s a Japanese shampoo commercial in which ScarJo appears alongside Hatsune Miku, a humanoid 3-D hologram who doesn’t exist in the flesh; she’s nothing but light and sound.

A multimillion-dollar pop megastar, Miku is one of the biggest musical entertainment brands in Japan, and she’s even more popular with live audiences abroad. Hatsune Miku has recently made music with Pharrell, she’s performed on the Late Show with David Letterman, and now she’s selling hair-care products with Johansson, a white star embroiled in the year’s biggest cultural appropriation debate in American entertainment.

The Japanese hair-care brand Lux, owned by Unilever, produced the commercial, which will soon begin airing on Japanese TV. In a 3-D rendering of Paris, Hatsune Miku spots Johansson on a billboard and is inspired to rethink her signature twin-tail hairstyle. Johansson calls Miku to offer English words of encouragement. “Being true to who you are makes all your dreams possible,” says the actual human, robotically. Then, on a split screen, Johansson and Miku go frolicking down a pink rendering of a Paris street in the spring, all smiles and lush, straightened hair. Miku loves Scarlett!

It’s pretty common for American stars such as George Clooney and Britney Spears to shoot commercials for Japanese television, in which they barely even have to speak. Johansson’s case is rare and remarkable in that she’s selling shampoo while, more importantly, palling around with a beloved pop figure in Japan who may afford Johansson some restorative measure of credibility following the intense stateside debate that has dogged her casting as Maj. Motoko Kusanagi, a Japanese protagonist, in Ghost in the Shell.

The Lux ad is a small, but smart, goodwill gesture that should resonate with American fans of Ghost in the Shell and other anime as much as it might resonate with younger TV viewers in Japan. In the U.S., where “cultural appropriation” is a distinct and occasionally loud concern, Johansson’s association with a popular Japanese musician demonstrates a (paid) level of engagement with Japanese pop culture that even mainstream critics of the forthcoming Ghost in the Shell casting might lack. Presumably, Johansson’s agent engineered this bit of international crossover to endear the American actor to potential Japanese filmgoers as well as interested foreign onlookers such as myself.

Johansson previously starred in a series of Japanese television commercials for the Starbucks copycat brand Mount Rainier Espresso & Milk. Hatsune Miku once starred in a bizarre, viral Japanese commercial for Domino’s Pizza. The new Lux ad pairing them together is the only trans-Pacific partnership that truly matters. Watching Hatsune Miku lose her ponytails kinda stresses me out. For Johansson, however, it’s a good look.