For most Americans, 2003’s Lost in Translation was their first encounter with the concept of Japanese Whisky. In it, Bill Murray, playing washed up actor Bob Harris, travels to Tokyo to film a commercial in which he recites the now iconic line:
So, what constitutes “Suntory Time”?
Suntory is the original puzzle piece of a global conglomerate called Suntory Holdings. Its distilled beverages division was re-named Beam Suntory in early 2014 after they purchased Jim Beam Inc. for $16 billion, giving it control of iconic brands such as Jim Beam (obviously), Maker’s Mark, Laphroaig, Canadian Club, and many others. It is the largest producer of Japanese Whisky, including the Yamazaki 2014 Sherry Cask, which was named the “Best Whisky in the World” by the Whisky Bible. Back in 2003, however, the Japanese Whisky revolution was barely underway. One might even say that Lost in Translation kick-started it.
“Suntory was notified in advance of the film’s production, but wasn’t involved in the specific script or creative utilized in the film,” says a spokesperson for Beam Suntory. “Everything in the film was fictional.“
The whisky itself, however, was not fictional. In 2003, the 17-year-old blend of single malts produced by Suntory’s Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries was labeled “Suntory Whisky 17 Years Old”. This is how the bottle appears in the movie, and is the reason why Bill Murray calls for “Suntory Time” (The scriptwriters might’ve had something to do with this also.)
Over the years, the bottled evolved, with the “Hibiki” name becoming ever more dominant, and the Suntory name being relegated to smaller typeface.
Today, the Hibiki 17 year old label is widely available in Japan, and is sold in duty free stores at Narita International Airport. The label also became available in the United States in early 2014, so now Americans can pour themselves a dram of Hibiki 17 year old and truly make it “Suntory Time”.