New Loyalties: A Modernizing Japan

Masamura Yasuzo’s Giants and Toys originally aired in 1958, and is one of the last films to be released in the golden era of Japanese cinema. The movie follows employees of World Candy Company, and their efforts to outdo their competitors. Through his film, Masamura Yasuzo is able to allude to the issues concerning post-war Japan and Japanese cinema. In fact, Masamura’s film is a retort to the traditional ‘slower’ Japanese films that he feels do little justice in portraying a modernizing Japan.  Rather than the slow, emotional scenes often associated with Japanese cinema at the time, Giants and Toys uses a combination of speed, moving frames and rapid dialogue to shrink outside misconceptions. Moreover, it is Masamura’s choice of characters that reveals the overpowering sensation of corporate culture, the rising importance of mass media and the ever present loyalty of the Japanese people.

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In 1955, Sato Tadao (a Japanese film-critic) pointed out how slow Japanese movies were relative to their Western counterparts. Three years later, Masamura comes out with his Avant-Garde film that is completely out of its time. For starters, the rapid dialogue and moving frames are immediately noticeable. In one scene, we hear employees discussing their manager, Goda. The camera makes its way through the office before finally stopping at Goda’s desk. Throughout this shot, we see office worker’s moving in and out of the frame at different tangents, and in the background everyone is busy working. This element of speed conveyed by Masamura’s film helps define a modernizing Japanese culture. Time has become more precious, people are always busy; in other words it is the rise of corporate culture in Japan.

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Yet corporate culture cannot be influential if it is not equally held together by the money-starved capitalists and a mass media frenzied consumer culture.  Clearly, we see the stereotypical capitalist in Goda himself. In one scene, for example, he claims that World needs only “more publicity, more sales” (01:05:07). This suggests that capitalists were more interested in making money than winning the consumer over. What is even more disturbing is that prior to Goda’s statement, an older man claims the importance of Bushido or a code of loyalty, hinting to the traits of samurai warriors. Goda only sees this as weakness, which could be Masamura’s way of representing a culture that has replaced loyalty with a hunger for wealth. However, in Giants and Toys, the audience is still subject to displays of loyalty. Goda is loyal to his company, as are most character’s in the film to various entities that include corporations, families or certain individuals. Consequently, it is clear that a sense of Bushido lives on in the Japanese people, but it has sadly been twisted by the selfishness of capitalism.

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On the other side of the spectrum, we have a consumer culture that is blinded by mass media. Goda’s brilliant idea is to use the outreach of mass media to bring in more sales. He begins by promoting Kyoko, a silly proletarian girl, in various magazines and sources of media. Then, he uses Kyoko’s now large appeal in the public to bring in sales for World, only to be thwarted by an even better marketing campaign by a rival company. However, the key element in this whole ordeal is the relative resemblance of Kyoko’s journey to a commodity. A poor girl, made famous by external powers, is then farmed as the face of a marketing campaign for a piece of candy. This is how capitalist corporations promote the thingification of people, for them, Kyoko is just an object that could be easily replaced if it meant more sales. Nishi (the film’s protagonist) explains this idea to Kyoko and says “the public is fickle, they’ll soon find another star” (01:23:59). Yet blinded by her own fame Kyoko does not see this, or at least chooses not to because in the end she is a replaceable pawn in the vast landscape of mass culture.

Giants and Toys is, in many ways, an avant-garde film. Even though the film seems way ahead of its time due to the sporadic cinematography, the book it is based on is not. In fact, the book was one of the very first in a series of Japanese “business novels”, which were satirical representations of corporate life in Japan. In hindsight, this makes sense as Japan was experiencing a process of modernization first hand. Large corporations were becoming increasingly important, mass culture was in its embryonic stages and the “salary man” was finally ready for work.

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