Who are these mysterious dancing kiwifruit? Why do they sway so mournfully? A connoisseur of Japanese mascots explains.
The big button that says “viral content” was slammed with vigour this week as Stuff reporter Henry Cooke reported video footage of the New Zealand trade mission in Japan, and while bilateral trade engagements rarely scrape the popular consciousness, this particular video captured the unlikely sight of two human-sized kiwifruit slowly dancing to a wistful classical composition.
Because visual non sequitur travels well as a meme, the footage soon spread across social media and drew a range of comments from “this rules” to “this sucks”, but most often “this is weird”. People who have never seen a David Lynch film described the scene as “something out of a David Lynch film”. But the scene made perfect sense to those who closely follow the world of Japanese mascots and their relationship with everything from sports teams to consumer products and government organisations. So, please allow me to introduce the Kiwi Brothers, the breakout stars of Zespri branded fruits in Japan.
Who are the Kiwi Brothers? (キウイブラザーズ)
The straight answer is that Gurin (Green) and Gorudo (Gold) are the official mascots for the Zespri corporation in Japan and other East Asian markets including Singapore and South Korea. The better answer is that they are two brothers who work hard to develop their delicious flavour, vivifying colour and astounding nutritional value for the benefit of all fruit lovers – offering advice on how to bring their fruit to full ripeness with the help of their friends Banana, Apple and Orange.
In the commercial below we see the two Kiwi Brothers’ deep commitment to a healthy lifestyle: Running 10km daily, lifting weights at the gym, coming face-to-face with a Bigfoot while tramping, standing on reflexology pads at the public baths, shedding weight in a hot sauna, all for the good of their honoured customers.
When the Kiwi Brothers debuted in 2016 they were an instant hit with TV viewers and shoppers alike, drawing demand not only for kiwifruit but also for their own likeness. Kiwifruit demand premium prices in Japan and made an eye-watering NZ$580 million last year, while a casual search on eBay shows that stuffed toys of the Kiwi Brothers can go for over NZ$200 a pair.
Mascots in general enjoy a privileged place in Japanese pop culture for a number of complex historical and cultural reasons, including a tradition for the personification of nature which is not dissimilar to Māori culture: as a simple example, mountains are often recognised as ancestors. Within the modern world of commerce, mascots offer a way to represent a brand without the product needing to be present. The Kiwi Brothers then offer the best of both worlds by bringing a natural object to life, and remaining in the public eye before and after the lucrative kiwifruit season has passed.
Why do they sway with such melancholy?
In a world where content is king, context is often the pauper, so explaining exactly how these fuzzy superstars came to slowly shuffle in front of the prime minister of New Zealand takes some unravelling. Firstly, the event being filmed was officially hosted by Zespri rather than the government of Japan directly, so the presence of mascots as a part of corporate branding can be expected. Secondly, it’s not odd to host an international delegation with a recital of classical music, nor is it odd that a Japanese composition should be played.
The full context then, is that the trio of violin, piano and shakuhachi (traditional flute) played a range of music both eastern and western at the event, including more upbeat numbers that might suit the Kiwi Brothers. The video just so happens to capture a performance of Kōjō no Tsuki, which is a very well-known tune in Japan, expressing the classical aesthetic quality of “mono no aware”, which might be understood as “a reflection on the passage of time” or more expansively as “an appreciation for the transitory nature of all things”. Gurin and Gorudo simply honour this famous composition in their movements, swaying as a falling leaf might in the wistful airs of autumn, knowing that in time all things shall and must pass.
OK, maybe that doesn’t make anything clearer. But the video does highlight the friendly coexistence of east and west, the modern and the classical, the sacred and the vitamin-rich, and that’s something we should all appreciate rather than dismiss.