Hollywood actors in Japanese ads ?- Charlie Sheen and Bruce Willis are two stars discovering that selling their image abroad can help the box office

By Donald Morrison
Updated November 22, 1991 at 05:00 AM EST

American celebrities, loath to cheapen their image by pitching products in the U.S., often have no such qualms when it comes to Japan. Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kevin Costner, and Sigourney Weaver. They’ve all done ads (for Alinamin V, and ”energy” drink; Suntory Malt; and Nippon Steel, respectively) in the land of the rising yen in recent years.

Now some stars are discovering that hucksterism abroad can actually help box office — not a natural assumption here at home. Remember Hudson Hawk, Bruce Willis’ reported $58 million summer turkey? Well, that bird has wings in Tokyo, where it was the No.2 box office hit (after Arnold’s Terminator 2) a few weeks ago. One reason: Willis is famous through Japan for his Subaru commercials.

Jodie Foster’s The Silence of the Lambs spent an impressive 13 weeks among the top 10 grossers in Tokyo, where she’s familiar as a pitchperson for Honda. At least part of Pretty Woman‘s local success is due to Richard Gere’s role in spots for Japan Airlines. Michael J. Fox, whose Doc Hollywood was recently No.2 at the Tokyo box office, is also known for his Integra ads for Honda.

One of the hottest U.S. celebs in Japan is Charlie Sheen, whose recent comedy, Hot Shots!, hasn’t even been released there yet. His fame comes from his spots for Tokyo Gas and Modello women’s shoes (he doesn’t even wear them, he ogles them).