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Japan, 1958. As fierce competition goes on between the Giant, World, and Apollo candy companies, Nishi, an advertising executive for World, finds on the streets a cute hillbilly girl called Kyoko with rotted out teeth, bad clothes and tadpoles as pets. Sensing she possesses some sort of weird appeal, he immediately thinks she would make a great model for the next World campaign, selling candy in a space suit (Space themes, the execs reason, should score big as a new theme for advertising in Asia; let's remember this movie was made a year after the Sputnik). As she becomes more famous, of course, Kyoko develops a more independent streak, and resents more and more being manipulated around by the World people. So she tries to pursue the dream of being a singer in the new medium of television. It is amazing that this satire of advertising, capitalism and consumerism was made in 1958, since it is unlike any other movie from that time, including American movies. A film relatively (and undeservedly) unknown, it's full of pop imagery a decade before pop took over the world. It only shows once again that since the 1950s, Japan has been ahead of the rest of the world (including other rich countries) by decades. By the way, I saw it in a terrific color print, that makes the Japan of almost 50 years ago look as if it was shot yesterday.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A genius movie made during turbulent times where the Japanese economic monster had just given way to its hunger. In the 1950's Japanese corporations, after initial American patrimony, had begun to gain its foothold with an ambition that outrivaled its military initiatives of the previous decades. This movie tells a fictional story of corporate wars in the confections and sweets industry where people from all walks of life become sucked into the trappings of the corporate machine while all having the same dreams, not realizing they are different people with separate contributions. The story follows two main characters, Godo and his fresh out of college apprentice Nishi have just taken over the World Caramel ad campaign with aspirations to crush rival companies Giant and Apollo. Godo is a career strategist having acquired his head position by marrying the supervisor's daughter and next eyes the aging father in law's seat. The young Nishi is although hungry, young and principled in his ways and has difficulty losing his dignity to the company as Godo has. Along the way they wrangle a country bumpkin with tadpoles for pets and less common sense than a penny to be their poster girl. Also highly impressionable, Kyoko develops an unfulfilled crush on Nishi and then becomes too rich and famous to reconcile with her conscious. Apprentice Nishi meanwhile is in love with a rival worker and mixes business with pleasure as he falls for the girl and tries to extract corporate strategies from the enemy only to have his heart broken. This film is so sublime in its storytelling it it's surreal. This movie is a harsh criticism but completely stripped of all the hokey tongue in cheek one might find in "Office Space" or "Dr. Strangelove." In doing so it allows layers of credibility in its story and the characters that inhabit it. While we may be able to laugh at gangster rap Xerox angst or Brigadeer General Jack D. Ripper, viewers are not allowed the room to laugh at these overworked, half baked, ants caught up in the great race for domination. It is no surprise that director Masumura Yasuzo spent time in Italy studying film as no indiginant could ever make a film so critical of its own trappings. Quite possibly the best prediction of the direction of Japanese society, this film still stands as a timeless story of ambition and dignity in a world that demands too much from its inhabitants.
Corporate intrigue between the Giant, World, and Apollo caramel companies. Nishi is an ad exec for World, his best friend from college works in the advertising division of Giant, and his girlfriend works in the advertising division of Apollo. Nishi's boss, Godo is married into the family that runs the company, and it is obviously not a happy marriage, Godo disrespects his wife and has worked himself into a bleeding ulcer. When Godo and Nishi discover a cute hillbilly girl with rotted out teeth on the streets, Godo thinks she would make a good model and convinces her that Nishi is in love with her. While the rival companies create competing campaigns the young workers attempt to find a middle ground between loyalty to the company and loyalty to your friends. Eventually things turn very bad, and this may be the only movie in history where a guy walking around in a spacesuit with a bubble helmet, shooting a toy gun is a downer ending. The movie features a very weird musical number where Kyoko the hillbilly girl (after getting her teeth fixed) sings a jazzy little number about death, destruction and cannibalism. It is amazing that this film was made in 1958, it is light years beyond any other movie from the 50's I've ever seen. The use of Nishi's lighter to trigger montages is a really interesting idea visually, and I've never seen anything like that before. I give it a 10, and now I definitely need to see more of Masumura's films- the only other one I've seen is Blind Beast which is a horror/sexploitation flick in the style of The Collector.
This could very well be the greatest cinematic exposé on the eat-or-be-eaten attitude of corporations. Three rival caramel companies war with each other. The film focuses on the marketing departments of these companies. Think Cola Wars and you'll have a clue. This film was made in 1958, but it feels very modern. And the new Fantoma DVD is so pristine that it looks as if it were made yesterday. I've never seen a Criterion DVD even approach this quality. Please, give Fantoma your money. Order all four of the Yasuzo Masumura DVDs as I did! 10/10.
Giants & Toys - One the main reasons I watched Giants & Toys was for
the simple theme of the 1950's space craze. I love that era and 1950's
Science Fiction. And I wasn't disappointed, I loved to see all the toys
used as props in the movie, more than once stopping to get better look
at them. What that stuff would be worth on eBay! It seems frivolous,
but it did get me to watch the movie.
Giants & Toys is biting commentary on then contemporary 1950's Japanese life. It shows a society where corporations have taken over the Samuri Class role. Life belongs to your company. In the end, even beating down the most idealistic employee. From all I've read about Japanese corporate culture, this is what it is like.
More than just commentary on Japanese life, Yasuzo Masumura (director), Takeshi Kaikô (novel) and Yoshio Shirasaka (writer) are prophetic in the assessment of pop culture and media even in today's society. About thirty minutes into the movie there a line about "stars getting their 15 minutes of fame." Now that line may have not been a literal translation from the Japanese, but even so. Worhol's comment on fleeting fame wasn't made until 1968, ten years after Giants & Toys. I would love to find out what actually was said in that scene (anybody care to translate). I also wonder if this movie was an inspiration to Worhol.
I definitely put this into a must watch category. I look forward to checking out more Masumura films.
Yasuzo Masumura's GIANTS AND TOYS (1958) focuses on the antics behind a
publicity campaign for a Japanese brand of caramel candy put out by a
company, World Caramels, that's trying to wrest market share from two
rivals, Giant and Apollo. Goda (Hideo Takamatsu), the ambitious
publicity executive assigned to run the campaign, spots a teenage girl,
Kyoko Shima (Hitomi Nozoe), on the street and recruits her to be the
public face of the company, planning to put her in a space suit while
promoting the candy. He hires Harukawa (Yunosuke Ito), a cynical,
alcoholic photographer known for his work with young models, to take
the pictures that will put Kyoko's face in popular magazines, and
encourages a junior publicist, Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), to romance
Kyoko since she seems to like him. Despite Kyoko's charms, Nishi wants
no part of it and instead pursues the crafty Kurahashi (Michiko Ono),
an attractive, slightly older counterpart working at the rival company,
Apollo. Kyoko, an impetuous, gap-toothed wild child with a ready smile
and a lack of inhibition, still has to be persuaded--even coerced--into
posing for the initial set of photos, but she gradually comes to like
the fame and, more importantly, the money, which enables her to leave
her large family in a Tokyo slum district behind. Eventually, success
goes to her head and she is soon mulling offers from the candy rivals,
a testament to the power of Nishi's rejection of her. Goda, who is
married to his department head's daughter, is under extraordinary
pressure to increase sales, so he drives himself and everyone around
him relentlessly. The satirical tone of the early scenes gives way to a
very harsh critique of Japanese society in the postwar era on the verge
of its highly-touted "economic miracle."
When the film focuses on Kyoko, it's very charming and often quite funny. She reminds me of a looney, working-class Audrey Hepburn. Her impulsive behavior around the male characters may not be the most ladylike but it's really cute and even a little sexy. The photographer, Harukawa, is also very funny. He's brutally frank, acerbic and full of thoughts on a wide range of subjects. When he's interviewed by a pack of reporters, he tells one of them, "Your magazine is full of crap," before launching into a rambling monologue on famous western poets and their writing and meditating habits ("Byron wrote poems while inflicting self-torture") before lamenting that "Japanese novelists meditate on the toilet." At one point, in a bar watching Japanese women dance with western men, he expounds on the reason for Japanese women's preference for western men, something to do with the difference in physiques between the two races. I could have listened to him for much longer. Unfortunately, the bulk of the film shifts from Kyoko and Harukawa to the two World publicity execs and they just aren't that interesting. Eventually, it comes down to a moral debate between Goda, who justifies every cutthroat tactic he can think of as part of some nationalist impulse, and Nishi, who questions the ethics of what they're doing, culminating in a bleak, unsatisfying ending.
There is lots of dialogue about the Japanese way in the postwar era and what's needed to survive and thrive, with Goda's position thought to be at odds with traditional Japanese values. Many on the staff side with Goda and when one character complains that what worked in America won't work in Japan, another executive declares, "America is Japan." Goda increasingly becomes a caricature as the film progresses. When Nishi objects to the way Kurahashi is trying to hire Kyoko away from World to work for Apollo, especially after he's revealed his company secrets to her during their affair, she dismisses it with this line: "Work is work and love is love. We love as we cheat. It's so thrilling. It's love that will last." Which struck me as a very odd thing to put in such a character's mouth, unless something was lost in the subtitled translation. The whole sales war between Giant and World becomes an unlikely media event, as if the public would even care about two caramel companies. The film hits us over the head with all these messages without really working them into the fabric of the story. They seem forced.
Other Japanese films from the postwar era managed to incorporate these kinds of criticisms in a much less heavy-handed way, making points through story and character. Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW (1963) examines the battle between a conscientious executive and the company directors' greed through the prism of a crime story involving a kidnapping. Keisuke Kinoshita's THUS ANOTHER DAY (1959) looks at the plight of a salaryman desperately trying to get ahead and the strain it puts on his family, but lays out its critique entirely through the way characters behave and the shifting of relationships. (I've also reviewed this film on IMDb.) Nagisa Oshima and Koreyoshi Kurahara, two directors who were even younger than Masumura, also managed to layer their films of the 1950s and '60s with incisive social critiques of Japan, but they did it without making Japan look foolish, which is what Masumura does here. GIANTS AND TOYS has been compared to such American counterparts as Frank Tashlin's WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER, Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT, Alexander Mackendrick's SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS and Elia Kazan's A FACE IN THE CROWD, but those films managed to make their points without making America look foolish or hateful.
Yasuzo Masumura's Giants and Toys is a film that's truly ahead of its
time, in the context of Japanese cinema comparable only to Yoshishige
Yoshida's Blood is Dry, released three years after, as both films deal
with bizarre manifestations of cruel corporatism and the fickle nature
of fame in a commercialized world. Masumura's movie (based on Takeshi
Kaiko's novel) was released in the late fifties, but is still relevant
today. And this was one of his first films! The lack of budget is
visible, but the self-assured manic filming style hides it perfectly.
The two leads from Masumura's debut film Kisses return here, with
Hitomi Nozoe giving us one of the most effortlessly hilarious
performances in '50s cinema.
Right from the intro showing us a single photo being virally reproduced into oblivion, pop-art style, to the opening image of uniformed men walking in unison, Masumura pinpoints his two main targets; the grotesque nature of commercialism which produces overnight sensations and later discards them with equal ease, and the soulless corporate machine operating under the "If we stop to think, we'll get crushed" mentality. The aggressive message is further laid out in some nuanced layers of symbolism, such as equaling instant-superstars to tadpoles quickly turning into frogs or comparing the company executives to kids playing with toys, to some not-so-subtle but still effective jokes, like naming the three competing caramel companies "World", "Giant" and "Apollo". In the chaotic world of Giants and Toys, the executives' lighters still don't seem to work, despite the immense planning and organization skills wasted on exploitative banalities. It may be a bit repetitive, and the intro song kinda sucks, but there's no point in denying that this film was far ahead of what most of the world produced back then.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Kyojin To Gangu" ("Giants & Toys") is a very insightful film that
manages to tackle two serious social problems at the same time--and
does it with comedy. The first problem is more a Japanese problem--the
way that corporations in Japan have become cut-throat and
all-consuming. It appears that following the death of the militarists
at the end of WWII, this spirit of competition has back taken up by
large companies--who see business like Napoleon saw the rest of Europe!
The second problem is the vacuousness and fleeting nature of fame. This
is timely not just in 1958 but even more so today, as we have achieved
depths of shallowness that would put the 1950s to shame! The film
begins with World Candy Company. While they are one of the leaders in
the industry and have brisk sales, in this world of corporate warfare,
this isn't good enough--their two nearest competitors must be
obliterated! And one rising star in the company has a marketing idea
when he sees a very peppy yet ugly-toothed young girl--he'll make her a
star and then sign her to represent World. Now I was confused by this
cute lady. You'd THINK someone with terrible teeth would not only NOT
be adored by the public but would make a terrible spokesperson for a
candy company. But, the man turns out to be correct--if you market the
heck out of someone, no matter how pointless they might be, the public
are like sheep and will adore her. This is every bit as true today as
it was in the 50s--perhaps even more so. As the lady becomes more and
more and more famous for NOTHING, it's interesting to see how this
impacts the executives at World--who, in a couple cases, start coughing
up blood due to the pressure to win.
Interestingly, while Kyoko was 100% fake and created by marketers, after a while, the sweetness and peppiness that made her endearing began to wear off. And, in its place, was a certain crassness and vacuousness. In the process, this malleable lady suddenly wasn't so cooperative and malleable any more. It seems like the plan might be backfiring. What's to become of World's desire to rule the candy world? This movie was interesting because although it was very, very cynical, it managed to also be humorous and light at the same time. This helped the film quite a bit--as did the look of the movie and advertising campaign. While you would never think of the films together because they are so different in many ways, the 2011 American film "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" would be a great film to see along with "Giants & Toys". It just happened by chance that this was exactly what I did--and each enhanced the other as they both have a lot say about advertising and the public.
You have to admire a film that just celebrated its 50th anniversary and yet is as fresh in its concept as if it was released last Friday. This story of three caramel companies vying for market share is a satirical look at the cut throat aspect of business. The World Caramel Company, to increase business, tries to come up with a prize to lure kids into buying their product. They choose space suits and find a model Kyoko, played with all the necessary immaturity by Hitomi Nozoe. She has really bad teeth, but that is part of the allure, that she is not some supermodel hawking the product. Watch how publicity manager Goda (Hideo Takamatsu) and his assistant Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) mold her into this spokesperson, how they lose their soul to sell the product and what Kyoko morphs into. Director Yasuzo Masumura has directed many other films and he has a flair for the absurd here. I found myself thinking that this is what goes on in business throughout the world, then and now. So, this film does not have to be remade. I honestly feel they should make it required viewing for marketing majors, as a heads up of what they can expect. A very watchable, fast paced film that will make you think.
I haven't seen any of Masumura's other films, but, if they are anything like "Giants and Toys," they are extremely strange. Think "Four Hundred Blows" crossed with "Greed is good" American-style capitalism in post-war Japan, and you've got a good idea of what the story is about. Wickedly on-target satire, good performances, and interesting visual ideas (including Warhol-esque shots of ads featuring World Caramel's poster girl) converge in a very good, if surreal, movie. It's not quite good enough to be a classic, but it is unpredictable and enjoyable to watch.
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