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Giants and Toys - Kyojin to Gangu (Masumura Yasuzo 1958)


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Giants and Toys
[Kyojin to Gangu]

Genre: Satire of Capitalism Run Amuck

review in one breath

As three rival Caramel companies prepare for their annual promotional campaigns, the corporate backstabbing begins. But when the PR director of World Caramel discovers Kyoko, a cute but rather unpolished girl to star as the new face of the campaign, the competitive tide seems to turn in their favor. Until, that is, Kyoko becomes such a wild sensation that the entire campaign implodes. Director Masumura here explores the non-ceasing battle between pursuit of profits and business ethics in Japan's increasingly cut-throat corporate world.


intro

As I have said elsewhere, director Masumura Yasuzo is a highly credentialed and awarded director whose work is unfortunately little-known in the West. His personal interest in philosophical issues earned him the reputation of a potentially influential element in the re-defining of Japanese cinema. (So said, for example, director Koji Wakamatsu.) He passed away in 1986 at the age of 62.

The film under review here is intended as a biting indictment of the corporate greed and subsequent collapse of ethics in the post-War explosion of Japan's economy. (Note that this film is directed 13 years after the War ended.) The narrative revolves wholly around the destructive impact upon individuals (the "Toys") at the hands of corporate demands (the "Giants"). In what amounts to a simple observation of the full, logical extension of a profit-centric business model, audiences are unable to deny Masumura's key premise -- that corporate greed is a merciless machine which chews up and spits out even the best-intentioned souls if not checked by common decency and ethics.

But Masumura's message is not merely knee-jerk anti-progress rhetoric, as he knows full well that the blossoming capitalism of Japan is not something to be discarded. And thus a wholly meaningful integration of hope (for diligent employees) is woven into this tale such that even in the darkest moment of film, a moral and enduring lesson emerges, one which remains visible in Japanese society to this day.

This narrative of this film is ultimately based on a 1958 novel of the same name (also known as "The Build Up") by author Kaiko Ken.

story

Nishi is a newly hired PR assistant at Tokyo's World Caramel Company, one of the three leading caramel producers in the country. Under the tutelage of his boss, they set out to discover a theme for the year's heated promotional campaign. This involves cunning measures to discover the campaign plans of their two rivals, while arriving at a superior advertising blitz.

While strategizing, they run into Kyoko by sheer coincidence, a relatively cute and uneducated young woman whose primary skill seems to be her ability to touch her nose with her tongue for extended periods of time. (yowza??) In preparation for her debut as the "World Caramel Girl", Nishi orchestrates several "non-related" photo shoots with an ace photographer to appear in magazines. Kyoko's quirky beauty turns out to be such an amazing hit that by the time she enters the role of World Caramel spokesman, she is nearly famous.

But as the profits of the successful campaign begin rolling in, Nishi begins to see clearly his superiors' increasing disregard for anything other than greater sales. Seeing the potential destruction of Kyoko, himself and good friends, he can only ponder the possibly self-destructive course he is on. However by the time he finally raises his voice, there is no other recourse than to accomplish what he and society had committed himself to.

verdict

I personally enjoyed this film and was rather impressed by its ultimate message (which transcended the poignant satire) -- it all made a deep sense to me as the credits rolled. This "sense" involved a rather palpable cinematic depiction of the fate/destiny of Japan's innumerable "businessmen" (or bussiness Women, as the film wholly points out) wherein dedication to one's employer is highly demanding yet necessarily balanced with psychologically required core individual values. This critical balance between the corporate good and the preservation of the individual is precisely what this narrative plumbs.

This film is "social commentary" rather than action, so be warned if you seek anything different. However, if you are a lover/purveyor/observer of classic Japanese films with (intended) meaning, this is a pretty interesting example of ideological-laden, early post-War films attempting to get a handle on the sudden and nation-changing explosion in (US-mimicked) corporate economy.

Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD available via mainstream US venues.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Director Masumura Yasuzo is indeed worth checking out. Thankfully no explicit violence among caramel company executives! (I'd hate to find a fingertip in that sweet glob of gooeyness) No sex, but some rather (profit-oriented) smooching among company rivals. Director Masumura effectively pulls off his intended satire and its transcendent message.

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