Early Product Placement At The Movies

Pretty much everything anyone would ever want to know about product placement on the silver screen was covered in Morgan Spurlock’s excellent documentary The Greatest Story Ever Sold. If you haven’t watched that yet please do, it will change the way you view movies and TV forever.

Re-watching Ozu’s Tokyo Story the other day I was struck by two instances of in-your-face product placement.

The most noticeable comes late in the film as Noriko receives a call at work. This being fifties Japan there’s only one phone in the office and we’re treated to a static shot of Noriko crossing the room to get to it. This is the frame:


The shot lasts for seven seconds. You might want to kick your tyres when you get out of the theatre.

Other advertising is visible when Shūkichi and Tomi visit Noriko’s tiny apartment. Again, it’s a static shot, and again the placement is visible throughout the scene:


The Rinso box might seem insignificant in the screencap but the eye is drawn back to it again and again. There’s nothing accidental about anything appearing in the shot, you’re watching the result of meticulous set design.

Perhaps Ozu is telling us that Noriko’s quiet virtue and devotion to familial values run deeper than her dead husband’s siblings’ because she uses a better quality detergent?

Anyway, it’s amazing to me that I hadn’t picked up on the product placement before. These are the only western brands visible throughout the film and they’re both very much dominant in the frame. I’d love to know how this came about.

2 Comments Early Product Placement At The Movies

  1. Justin Parsons

    I am watching the film as I type and have just come to the Rinso scene, googled and arrived here. Interesting. My own brain was thinking that it was context as they are discussing Shoji’s death and the end of WWII and the defeat of Japan by the US. I saw the Rinso as an indicator of post-war change in Japanese consumer behaviour as overseas brands start to proliferate, but looks like I could be overanalysing.

  2. James Barnes

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Justin.

    Perhaps you’re not overanalysing at all. The Rinso box might very well be representative of post-war change. Better than my glib reading of it.


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