Flo from Progressive. Dos Equis’s “most interesting man in the world.” Verizon’s (and later, Sprint’s) “can you hear me now?” guy. A truly great character from a widespread ad campaign can create cultural shockwaves.
Perhaps less famous in North America, but deeply relevant to the video game industrywe all love, is Sega’s Segata Sanshiro – the warrior who advocated so convincingly for the Sega Saturn.
As a major character in the Sega universe – who might be coming back in a surprising new way – here is everything you need to know about Segata Sanshiro and what he has meant to Japanese and gaming culture!
Who Is Segata Sanshiro?
A parody of the titular character from Akira Kurosawa’s debut film Sanshiro Sugata, Segata Sanshiro is a martial artist character who advertises the Sega Saturn. Not only is Segata an obvious parody of a popular film character, but even his catchphrase sounds like his name: “Sega Satān, shiro!” which translates to “Play Sega Saturn!”
His first television advertisement aired in November 1997, and the ad campaign continued into 1999.
In each ad, he would promote a game for the Sega Saturn by being in a dramatic real life situation related to the game. For instance, while promoting Burning Rangers, Segata rescued a woman from a burning building. Other tasks included breaking roof tiles with his head, racing a speed skater on foot over ice, and punching the buttons of a giant Saturn controller.
At the end of 1998, the launch of Sega’s Dreamcast was approaching, so Segata appeared in one last advertisement. He leapt from the roof of Sega headquarters to protect the employees from an incoming missile, and then rode it off into space, presumably dying in the process.
Who Is The Actor Who Played Segata Sanshiro?
Segata Sanshiro was played by an actor named Hiroshi Fujioka, who not only looked like the actor who had played Sanshiro Sugata, but was also a skilled martial artist, experienced in karate, iaido, and judo.
Fujioka was known for keeping an intense focus on his work while performing. He genuinely believed that he was doing work that would be a positive influence on society, and he talked about truly enjoying games for the Sega Saturn, saying that “they put out a message to the world.”
Segata Sanshiro: The Theme Song, The Video Game, And Beyond
Segata Sanshiro’s theme, “Sega Satān, shiro!” played during all of his commercials. It was written by Koji Ando and Fumio Okui and performed by Ichiro Tomita.
As he became more popular, so did the song. Within a year it warranted recording a CD single of the track. Fujioka recorded the vocals himself – an experienced vocalist, he had also recorded vocals for the first Kamen Rider theme song, “Let’s Go!! Rider Kick.”
In the fall of 1998, Segata Sanshiro received his own video game (developed by Sega for the Saturn, of course) called Segata Sanshirō Shinken Yūgi. It is a collection of minigames with each one unlocking a different Segata Sanshiro TV commercial to watch. Winning at the end unlocked a new message from Segata, along with a music video.
While not particularly well received when it came out, the game is noted for capturing the spirit and humor of Segata Sanshiro, even if the gameplay is excessively basic.
Segata Sanshiro has also made loads of appearances at live events. It started with promotional events for the Sega Saturn as the ads were running, but, despite his “death” in the ads, he also appeared at the official launch event for the Dreamcast, and at Sega’s live concert in 2013.
Segata Sanshiro Legacy
As an ad campaign, Segata Sanshiro worked. In Japan, the Sega Saturn not only outsold the Sega Mega Drive, but also the Nintendo 64, and it came very close to the Sony PlayStation. Although the Saturn never achieved such popularity outside of Japan, the Segata Sanshiro commercials are credited with its popularity within it.
And on a cultural level, Segata Sanshiro achieved a cult following in Japan. Even Western journalists, where he was never as widely known, have praised him. Writers from Kotaku, Otaku USA, and GamesRadar+ have all penned articles discussing his lasting appeal.
Segata Sanshiro’s Son
In March 2020, a new ad campaign started in order to celebrate Sega’s 60th anniversary. That campaign features Sega Shiro – Segata Sanshiro’s son! Not only is it exciting to see the story continue, but it’s extra satisfying knowing that Sega Shiro is played by Hiroshi Fujioka’s real life son, Maito Fujioka.
Sega Shiro works to protect Sega’s legacy in honor of his father, and keeps his gi which fell when he sacrificed himself to save Sega from the missile.
Also in the ad campaign is a man wearing an oni mask who has a black gi, known as Sega Hatanshiro, whose plan is, perhaps, to destroy Sega.
For anyone who enjoyed a good branded story, Sega has plenty of excellent content. And if you’re intrigued by what you’ve read already, you’re in luck! Sega has announced that they have “special content” planned to be released on June 3rd, 2020, the official 60th anniversary of the company, which can only mean the next chapter for the Sanshiro family is just ahead.