Yasuzo Masumura is one of the key figures in Japanese cinema following the Second World War, which of course means that practically no one has heard of him. Masumura reportedly said that his aim was to attack mainstream Japanese culture and cinema, a goal that was ably served by this surreal comedy about his country's mutating work ethic.
Set in Japan of 1958, the story centers around the publicity department of the World Caramel company, which is losing ground to its competitors, Apollo and Giant Caramel. Rising star Goda, who married the boss' daughter, creates a campaign to associate World Caramels with kids' new interest in space and science. To that end, he and his protege Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) recruit Kyoko Shima (Hitomi Nozoe), a twenty-something tomboy with a sugar habit so bad that half her teeth are rotten. Goda somehow turns Kyoko into an overnight star and hires her as the company's poster girl. Though Kyoko's fetching performances in a space suit sell ever more candy for World Caramel, the competing companies have their own clever campaigns and Kyoko is bound to have her own ideas about her new career.
Though the setup is pure Pygmalion, the story is really about Nishi and his discovery that everyone around him is engaged in rapid self-destruction to serve their own avarice. Will he succeed in rejecting the subjugation of his dignity, or will he end up coughing blood into a hanky in a fit of stress-induced hysteria, as his superiors have done? Masumura, perhaps sensing that movies would be addressing the question even thirty years later (in films like the American Gung Ho), leaves many points of they story unresolved in a fairly enigmatic ending.
On a side note, my favorite moments in Giants involve Nishi's relationships with the young executives at the other companies. He even seduces one young woman at Apollo with the intent of pumping her for information about their publicity campaigns. Of course, she knows this and it becomes apparent to everyone but Nishi that she has done exactly the same to him.
Though the film is relevant today, Giants
and Toys is still representative of a more innocent time, when cutthroat
competition between candy companies must have seemed more ironic than
it does today. One wonders how Masumura would have reacted to the Enron
scandal, or even the forthright capitalistic endeavors of the Toho film
company when they produced Godzilla vs Megalon,
Fantoma has given the film a widescreen digital transfer that really makes those '50s colors pop. Though the source material isn't perfect, it still looks great and the Dolby sound is about as perfect a recreation of the original mono soundtrack as we're likely to hear. The menus are simple but attractive and easy to understand.
The extras are limited but that's more for lack of source material than for lack of effort. To Fantoma's credit, they scrounged up a nice biography of Masumura and included his filmography. Also included is an interesting vintage trailer from Daiei, which manages to show off some of the cinematography and completely misrepresent the film's story while simultaneously ruining a key plot twist.
Chris Holland, 1/7/2004