Bill Murray's character in Lost in Translation was a washed-up actor in Tokyo to tape a commercial for Suntory whisky. "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time" was the tag line. It may shock you to know that Suntory is an actual Japanese distiller, brewer, and liquor distributor and that they produce excellent malt and blended whiskies.
Suntory Yamazaki 12 year old is Suntory's flagship single malt whisky. The Yamazaki distillery was built in 1923 in the mountains on Honshu, and its distilling operations were overseen by Masataka Taketsuru, who brought Scottish whisky-making techniques back to Japan after working in distilleries in Scotland. Yamazaki was the first real whisky distillery, and it remains one of the best (along with Suntory's Hakushu and Nikka's Yoichi). Its 12 year old and 18 year old bottlings are also just about the only Japanese single malt whiskies available on the US market outside of specialty stores catering to Japanese and Japanese-Americans. That's a shame because tasting Yamazaki 12 year old makes me want to try the others. It's light, fragrant, and sweet. The flavor is dominated by malty sweetness -- it reminds me of an unpeated Speyside malt. After a while in the glass, its aroma takes on some vanilla overtones. There's also a hint of Bourbon, which makes me suspect that this whisky is at least partially aged in refill Bourbon barrels (although some of what I have read about Suntory says that they use Japanese oak for aging). A very enjoyable dram.
And for those of you who haven't seen Lost in Translation, here's the scene where Bill Murray is taping the Suntory commercial: