The sweet image of youth: the face of the star in Yasuzo Masumura’s Giants and Toys.

Yasuzo Masumura’s Giants and Toys uses the genre of keizai shōsetsu (business novel) to compose a series of Pop Art images in which the narrative behind the mise-en-scène deconstructs the commercial reification of the presented images. 

 

Ostensibly the story of competing caramel candy companies and their efforts to win market share through advertising and promotion, the movie employs jarring color, rapid editing, and cluttered soundscapes (notably the amount and speed of spoken dialogue) to destabilize the audience and create a new relationship between the spectator/consumer of commercial artifacts and the objects themselves. This Avant-garde exploitation of the possibilities of the aural and visual ties in thematically with the themes of destabilization and capitalism in postwar Japan.  The most obvious ‘object’ in Masumura’s film is Kyoko, a young tomboy with bad teeth, who used by the World candy company to create a new star; one in which the previous order, famous person endorsing a product, will be inverted into a star born of the product itself.  This reification of the face of an ordinary citizen into a mass produced commodity is interesting to contrast with the campaign of one of the rival caramel warriors.  Apollo is offering a cradle to wedding promotion that in effect seals youth and young womanhood into an item that is branded by a particular commodity.  Notably there is not a particular star face for this campaign, what would be reified here would be possibly the essence of youth, which begins when a girl crawls out of her cradle (ideally to search for candy) and ends when she gets married (although here she would hopefully soon create a new consumer).  Both campaigns attempt to link the public in a more direct way with the product; they represent a reaction from the complaints of Goda about the star being the center of the ad.  In other words the image of say a baseball star selling soft drinks presents a problem for pure commercial reification, as this image would act on the public in a triangular manner.  There is the relation to the public and the sports figure, which would be mediated by the audience’s relation to the sport itself.  There is the relation between the figure itself and the commodity that is being sold; one in which there is dual capital, that of the fame brought by the figure and that of the brand of the product.  And there is the relationship between consumer and commodity.  The campaigns designed by World and Apollo allow the focus to be on this final interaction, and would serve to preclude the diminution of the product in relation to the image of the created star.  The World campaign seeks the commodification of female youth through visual representation.  This goes beyond even the physical features of Kyoko herself, as the photographer catches her laughter and thus reifies the emotion as a mass-produced image. 

 

The image of Kyoko reminds me of the question of subject posed by Barthes in relation to Pop Art.  As Pop Art has become depersonalized, some subject remains but what subject?  Barthes states that it is the “one who looks” rather than “the one who makes.”  In depersonalizing the star system in advertising the narrative and images of the film produce the consumer and the star as one and the same.

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