Shiseido's Halloween ad for this year is titled "The Party Bus." Directed by Shō Yanagisawa, it depicts a costumed Princess Kaguya with a decision to make: Samurai zombie … or Dracula?
The 3:30 spot opens with a red title card that reads, "I just can't tell you that I love you." Let that sink in as the work sweeps you into its own rhythm, because there's a weird beauty here that's difficult to describe.
It's a labor of contrasts: winsome music propped against alarming neon and raucous partygoers. The delicacy of our princess combats both the visual intensity of the bus and the forceful way with which the aspiring Dracula sometimes treats her.
Why is he so hell bent on maintaining her focus—not just on himself, but away from the zombie?
In an odd little interlude, Princess Kaguya closes her eyes. A single teardrop mixes with her lipstick, lending soft waltzing life to whatever is happening inside her mind.
While the spirit and rhythm of "The Party Bus" feel different, fans of Shiseido's famous 2015 piece "High School Girl" won't be disappointed; Yanagisawa directed that, too. The same way the earlier film challenged barriers of perception, juxtaposing not only gender but the feminine way we think of even men in the East, "The Party Bus" has a role, too: challenging the stories we tell ourselves about our lives, and those of others.
Neither character speaks. But a story is playing out, one we complete in our minds with help from that first title card: Princess Kaguya has a choice to make, and her inability to say the L-word probably stems from a broken heart. As for Dracula's forceful character, it's easy to justify when you've been fueled by a lifetime of rom-coms: Samurai zombie probably hurt her. She needs to get over him to see the one that truly loves her.
Yet something sinister simmers always below the surface. When Dracula leans in for his kiss, the appearance of his long, leather-encased nails over her features conjures discomfort. One of the most beautiful shots in the film is when the girl suddenly rises, exploding out of the bus in a way that contrasts her pastel kimono to the gash-red neon and graffiti of the party bus.
The Samurai zombie is alone in the dark. And when Princess Kaguya lifts the mask, that's when everything clicks into place: This is a lesbian love story, a clarion call for the LGBTQI+ set.
The work ends, "Make up your own story."
The decision to dress our protagonist as Princess Kaguya isn't anodyne. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya—which you should totally watch if you haven't—is about a girl whose adolescent beauty is so supernaturally stunning that she attracts increasingly powerful, dangerous suitors. In even the simplest interpretation, Princess Kaguya is about entitlement to a girl who's merely become a body; the conflict stems from her need to escape it. (How bad do things get? Spoiler: She leaves the planet.)
These sentiments are nicely represented by our pal Dracula, who fights not only for himself but for men generally. This isn't just about getting the girl; it's about not losing her for other men. Our own minds' efforts to recast him as an underdog—however heavy-handed he was—feels all the darker. How many cues did "The Party Bus" give us that there was a bigger story here than the one we imagined? What kind of end were we expecting, and what does that tell us about ourselves?
"The Party Bus" also follows news, some months ago, that Japanese economics commentator Kazuyo Katsuma is in a same-sex relationship. This was a big deal; she's seen as a working woman's icon, and expressed a desire to come out now in hopes that this was the right time for society to change. Let's hope she's right.
As always, this is gorgeous work from Shiseido, which once again demonstrates even makeup brands can come packing layers.
Director: Show Yanagisawa
Creative Director: Masato Kosukegawa (Shiseido)
Producer: Mika Ishii (Shiseido) , Yoshito Imai (TowerFIlm), Masahiro Kijima (TowerFIlm)
Line Producer: Kenji Nishina
Copywriter: Aya Ueki (Shiseido) Mike Burns, (Shiseido)
Web Director: Tomoaki Yamura (Shiseido)
Camera: Senzo Ueno
Camera Assist: Akio Fujita
Lighting: Masachio Nishida
Lighting Assistant: IsaoKato Production
Designer: Yui Miyamori
Stylist: Takeru Sakai
Stylist Asisstant: Arisa Shimoda