Masumura Yasuzo’s Giants and Toys (1958) sheds light on the caramel as a commodity, the industrialization of post-war Japan, and the notion of identity, all the while introducing the now iconic visual of Pop Art. Considered a parody of the industrialized celebrity culture of post-war Japan, Giants and Toys mimics the fast pace sales-and-profit-are-everything culture by means of incorporating abnormally rapid dialogues and a mise-en-scène film style that generously packs each frame with people and objects. The film describes the economic struggle among three different caramel companies, World, Giant, and Apollo. While focusing on World, the film follows the rags-to-riches story of Kyoko, an eighteen year-old rotten-toothed proletarian girl, who catches the eye of Goda, World’s advertising campaign mastermind, and becomes the image of World’s caramels. The film also follows the journey of Nishi, who works for Goda and ultimately prevails as the sole emotional and humanist character.
The first set of screenshots reveals the motif of repetition that Masumura utilizes to represent the parallel between the caramels and Kyoko and the parallel between the caramels and the individuals of the industrialized workforce. The caramels produced by World, Giant, and Apollo are virtually identical in taste and ingredients (except maybe Apollo’s Willy Wonka-like flavor-changing caramel), yet they set one another apart through their advertising campaigns and the identities their candies embody. Rather than improving the quality of their caramels, the companies focus on campaigns for sales and profit. Thus, the simple delicacy of the caramel is devalued; it is the campaign, the atmosphere, and the identity, image, and personality of Kyoko that people want to buy, not the physical product itself. The screenshot below presents the image of Kyoko as an ordinary, yet fun and approachable girl who stands out among a sea of well-known celebrities. As Michael Raine writes, she appears doll-like, the Audrey Hepburn type that was popular in Japan at the time. It is the notion of creating identity through what is consumed. Thus, the caramel is trivialized as generic and easily copied or reproduced just as the image of Kyoko is multiplied and similarly, as the Japanese worker is assimilated.
The screenshot above represents the collapse of World’s campaign. Kyoko refuses to work for World after Nishi, who has to sport the space suit in the name of honor and loyalty, broke her heart. Though initially embarrassed, Nishi gives a smile after his so-called girlfriend, Kurashashi, encourages him. There is something very absurd with this scene: in the end of all this blood and sweat, it’s the campaign that matters most (and not the caramels). Though he smiles, his disturbing grin signifies the corruption of the system and the repression of the Japanese workforce. In an earlier scene, Goda, whose health was sacrificed to the company, openly reveals the labor culture of Japan: a Japanese person must work nonstop in order to survive.
Ultimately, Masumura’s parody of such a dehumanized culture reveals the commodificaiton of individuality through the commodification of caramels. In Giants and Toys, a culture concentrated with rituals of food and dining is downgraded to a factory of warfare and social Darwinism.