Giants and Toys: Dehumanizing Effects of Consumerism and Mass Production

           “Giants and Toys,” an avant garde film directed by Masumura Yasuzo, is a satirical  depiction of post-war Japan’s period of substantial economic growth during the 1950’s. As a consequence, mass corporate culture and idol culture emerges, in which companies hire a star to sell their products. In “Giants and Toys,” the World Company chooses Kyoko, a quirky girl, to be the star of their Space Age Campaign to sell their caramels. The three caramel companies live in such a competitive environment that requires them to dedicate all of their efforts into making a huge profit by selling the most candy. Masumura Yasuzo criticizes this consumerist culture by portraying the dehumanizing effects it has on the characters of this movie.

A Crowd of Worker with No Individuality

A Crowd of Worker with No Individuality

In this first screenshot, Masumura Yasuzo portrays the people of the corporations on their way to work. All of the workers are primarily clad in the same uniform: a black suit, white shirt and a tie. Yousuke Nishi, one of the protagonists of this film, is briefly noticeable until the director zooms out of the shot, displaying the dozens of corporate workers. In this long shot, Nishi becomes lost in the crowd, which indicates his insignificance in the corporate world. To the leaders of the big corporations, he is simply a tool to be used to gain profit and success to the company. He therefore becomes dehumanized as a consequence of corporate cultures.

One of the first images the audience sees of Kyoko is a photo of her in the middle of stretching. The photo appears youthful and organic, showing off Kyoko’s personality. However, the image soon turns into two images, four images, and then continues to replicate itself into what seems like an infinite amount of copies.

Kyoko's image being mass produced.

Kyoko’s image being mass produced.

The perpetual copying of her image echoes the pop art by American artist Andy Warhol featuring Marilyn Monroe, who was also a pop culture icon. This first image enforces the idea that Kyoko is being objectified for the purpose of promoting the product that World Company wants to sell. The development of the multiple images of Kyoko alludes to one of the major themes of mass culture- more is always better. More pictures of their star leads to more people demanding caramels, which contributes to more profit. However, as this image of Kyoko constantly replicates, it becomes difficult to notice any distinct features that show off her unique identity. This process of mass replication of Kyoko’s image results in the loss of her identity and individualism. It also parallels her journey in the film, because her transformation into a star results in the loss of her individuality. She becomes just like any other icon, being used for the success and profit of the corporation.

Kyoko’s photographer tells a reporter about her tadpoles.

Kyoko’s photographer tells a reporter about her tadpoles.

This screenshot from the film shows one of the many unique qualities that Kyoko had before she lost her identity and became a run of the mill pop icon. At the beginning of the film, Kyoko’s character could be described as being a modest girl who cares for her younger siblings by working with a taxi company. She also owns several pet tadpoles, a fact that her photographer marks as the only thing distinguishing her from other girls. This description implies that the tadpoles are symbolic of Kyoko’s character before she got swept away by fame and idol culture. When Kyoko is promoting the company, she has to undergo a radical makeover in order to boost World Company’s prestige and reputation. Besides her physical appearance, she has to lie about her family and private life in order to maintain her image as a popular icon. For example, she must lie about spending her wages on herself, since World Company’s spokesperson cannot be perceived as greedy. As time passes and Kyoko lets the fame change her character, the tadpoles gradually begin to die off. This is a symbolic representation of Kyoko’s transformation into a commodity that World Company uses to amass money.

Therefore, Masumura Yasuzo harshly criticizes the corporate and icon culture of the 1950’s in “Giants and Toys.” By displaying how the attitudes and actions of the greedy corporations of the 1950’s were based mainly on making the most profit, he emphasizes the theme of the dehumanizing effects of a mass production society. Kyoko started out as a charismatic, quirky girl, yet by the conclusion of the film, she has been manufactured by the corporations into a mouthpiece with no individuality, existing solely to benefit the company’s reputation and finances.


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