Avant-Garde and Proletarian Factors in Giants and Toys

In Yasuzo Masumura’s 1958 satirical film Giants and Toys, three Japanese caramel candy companies fight to dominate caramel sales. Practically overnight, a girl named Kyoko is turned into World’s new marketing campaign figure—ordinary appearance, rotten teeth, and all—her grinning image plastered onto the front covers of magazines throughout the city. Clearly, the new star system involves using Kyoko and her homely image to appeal to the public masses, dressing her in astronaut suits in accordance with World’s campaign theme, handing her fame and fortune, all for the sake of increasing sales. To further understand this new advertising system, it is helpful to consider avant-garde film and proletarian literature.

Kyoko’s image is on magazine front pages (and in the magazine as well), sold as a commodity.

Avant-garde film is a cinema genre that strays away from mainstream characteristics, bringing a fresh and novel aspect of idea or cinematography into the movie. Giants and Toys is considered an avant-garde film because it displays concepts that were rather advanced for the historical time in which it was made. Masumura was sharp in his observation of the corporate world, channeling his views into a film largely satirizing the superficial and immediate rise to stardom the advertising system often provides for its players, an occurrence that became more and more prevalent into the rest of the 20th and even 21st century.  Additionally, Masumura tinkers with pop art, an art movement popular in the U.S. in the 1950’s, in his introduction scene, when a single image of Kyoko is duplicated repeatedly until the whole screen is filled with miniatures of the same picture. Not only does this representative of avant-garde film, it also symbolizes how as a mascot for World, Kyoko will be molded into a commodity, much like caramels; an image—a thing—to be catered to the public, casually inserted into people’s everyday lives repetitively as part of mass culture. Another example of avant-garde traits in the film include the theme music, a unique piece featuring wild screaming, savage lyrics, and a remarkable fusion of tribal and American jazz. At the peak of stardom, Kyoko’s performance of this song is yet another reminder that her performances are limited, just like her fame, as delineated by the introduction of World’s previous marketing symbol, who still lingers wistfully at the edge of the spotlight.

Kyoko’s image is duplicated in an example of pop art.

Proletarian literature is writing created by the working class for the proletariat that mainly concerns their unfair sufferings and encourages revolution to create social and economic reform. It is relevant to Giants and Toys and its new star system in advertising because both strive to appeal to the working class. Whereas proletarian literature is often a means of augmenting communist support by delivering radical ideas to the working class and arguing for an equal, classless society, World’s new star system endeavors to boost caramel sales by selling to the common people Kyoko’s humble background paired with the popular outer space theme at the time in history when space exploration was the new trend. World’s strategy of using Kyoko is a means of encouraging people to “reform” and buy their caramels, even though World was actually just manipulating Kyoko, consistent with how the corporate world tends to function. Thus, both avant-garde film and proletarian literature are related to the invention of the new advertising strategy World employs in Masumura’s satire Giants and Toys.

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