‘Giants and Toys’ or — (Un)Necessary Illusions?
“Space suits versus animals versus subsidized living.”
The World candy company is in a bit of a pickle as they are losing ground to their competitors — the Apollo and Giant confectionary companies. A couple of young marketing recruits for World hit on the idea of an advertising campaign centered around space with space themed prizes to be won — ray guns, space ships, space suits etc.
They even pick a young girl off the streets, Kyoko, and (try to) carefully craft her to be the face for this new campaign. Kyoko is rough around the edges, difficult to control and has bad teeth yet the public respond to her down to earth energy and lack of pretense.
Meanwhile the corporate rivalries continue taking their toll and not just on the health of the employees but, possibly, on the very fabric of Japanese society itself? Hmm, there might be more to this than young women dancing about in space helmets.
So ‘Giants and Toys’ (1958) is a fast-paced, brightly coloured comedy satirising consumerism, manufactured fame, business, the media, marketing, publicity, fashion photography, advertising and the corporate ladder. It’s like ‘Mad Men’ directed by Frank Tashlin as publicists scheme and double-cross each other in a pop-art environment with farcical results. All in all it’s a big bundle of fun.
Except this particular brightly coloured candy has a bitterly cynical centre and our taste-buds sense and pick up on this fairly early on. For one thing, it seems working for these corporations is extremely bad for your health and prone to causing stomach ulcers. Burnout is also a problem with 35 seen as being over the hill so the indicators are that life expectancy is shortened by working for these busin…
Hang on! Is this film saying that modern Japanese society and pace of life is murderously lethal?! I think it is. Whoa!
So yes, there’s swipes at American consumer capitalism but the real target, the real focus of director Yasuzo Masumura’s cynicism, is Japan itself and how the nation responded to this external, cultural force. As one character states — American kids are almost immune to this stuff because it’s the natural habitat they’re born into, whereas the effect on the Japanese has been much more destructive (this could be way Kyoko has bad teeth). So not only is this a critique of the American occupation of Japan but more how Japan “adapted” to that influence and the result seems to be a maladapted nightmare (you can tell Masumura was a contemporary of Shōhei Imamura’s because they both seem concerned with similar themes and territory).
It also, correctly, illustrates how incestuous the world of publicity and marketing is with all the characters only dating or socialising with other publicists and advertisers. The film is filled with people and human bodies yet the world feels hermetically sealed from the external world, almost as though this world of marketing is the only reality there is.
By the end of the film, which I won’t spoil, the shallowness and lethality of “modern” Japan is explicitly exposed, coughed up blood splattering a newly received letter of promotion summing the entire situation up in one image.
All the above would make ‘Giants and Toys’ a heady enough concoction as is but Masumura and his crew also pull of some truly impressive camera-work. The camera is nearly always moving, horizontal compositions fill the widescreen image and there’s a very cleverly thought out sequence where three separate locations are linked by a broadcast of Kyoko performing on TV that manipulates both time and space and a fluctuating POV. There’s also a shot of fireworks during the day that is gorgeous as hell along with a dance number near the end that would feel more at home in a Fellini movie (Masumura did study film in Italy so you never know).
‘Giants and Toys’ is a fun, fast moving, highly enjoyable comedy but it’s also, possibly primarily, a scathing and highly intelligent indictment of modern life that is as applicable now as ever. It’s a seriously impressive piece of work that leaves most contemporary satire feeling hollow, flat and toothless.
Kyoko might have bad teeth but ‘Giant and Toys’ still has incredible bite.