Author Archives: imani3tokidoki

Objectification through Caramel and World Domination

“Giants and Toys” is a comedy film directed by Yasuzo Masumura that satirizes the evolution of corporate culture and the manifestation of celebrities during Japan’s economic boom in the late 1950s. During this period Japan’s economy is thriving and after the occupation period, in which the United States had relative control over the Japanese government, the nation continues to evolve as the workforce generally shifts towards businesses and cities. In this change innocence becomes corruption, modernity replaces tradition, and the individual is transformed from a creative force of innovation to a mindless, obedient cog in the mainframe work of Japanese society. The quest for dominance, to overcome rivals in the tedious process of boosting sales, is exaggerated in the film as Mr. Goda works to turn Kyoko, a simple tomboy, into a superstar with the help of his assistant, Yousuke, in order to market their brand of caramel candy from World (the name of their company). They succeed in making Kyoko marketable, but that alone comes with a price as Yousuke and Kyoko are both objectified and vastly altered from the experience, which symbolizes how the cut-throat tactics of a corporation can build or break down the structures of individual independence and innovation in favor of personas that fit to uplift mass consumerism.

Opening scene with Kyoko obviously stretching

The movie opens with Kyoko turning her head and stretching. This image is then duplicated and spread across the screen in a pop-culture-like fashion, reminiscent of streamlined repeated images such as what was used with Marilyn Monroe. As she appears in the above shot, Kyoko seems to be an ordinary girl. However, as her image repeats and displays across the screen in a checkerboard montage, the film abruptly sets its tone. Automatically, with the systematic introduction to Kyoko in a set of images, the objectification process has begun. Kyoko is a person to be remembered from the start, and with nothing but a blank background to provide contrast to her poignant force in the shot, the audience is forced to take her in since she’s the only one present in the frame.

The film introduces Yousuke in an environment that clashes directly with Kyoko’s blank background.

Yousuke walking in a crowd of employees. He is in between the man with the red tie and another man with a mustache and a hat.

 

Unlike Kyoko, whose presence is magnified by the monotonous background, Yousuke is nearly consumed and unidentifiable in the massive crowd of workers all heading in the same direction. The fact that his scene plays out seconds after Kyoko’s introduction is significant for it provides the audience immediately with something to contrast. By appearing in a crowd of workers, Yousuke already loses a sense of his individuality as a person, becoming one with the working mass of people. Easily relatable to parts of a machine, he is instantly, on a visual level, shown to be a person that can easily be replaced in Japan’s work force. The opening images present a network and guide for two of the main character’s progression in the films, even laying out notable features for their characteristics, as Yousuke accepts and disappears in his role as the loyal, company man while Kyoko continues to rise throughout the movie as a celebrity. However, the more her image is reproduced with World’s caramel brand the more people began to see Kyoko as an object. Because of the immediate foreshadowing and strong connections with the characters’ development throughout the movie, these first two shots become even more poignant as the music blasts them forward with unapologetically loud, fierce beats and drum sets. With all these markers in place, these two shots become one of the most memorable visuals in the entire movie.

 

World’s success and equal desperation to overcome their rivals and achieve huge sales is masterfully represented by the repeated clicking of a malfunctioning lighter.

Lighter doesn’t work. Repeated clicking noises emerge. Montage ensues. Repeated element in film.

The sounds of the lighter alone, a relentless clicking that resonates easily as a part of a machine line, draws the viewers in as the montage of images appears with the clicking until the viewer is returned to the medium shot where the lighter finally bursts aflame. Besides linking the caramel making process, an easy snack as unidentifiable from one another as Yousuke is presented in his introduction, to Kyoko’s objectification and stardom, World’s tactics in overcoming the rival companies is proven to be flawed. The broken lighter can be seen as a symbol for the destruction of traditional values and for the everyday corporate worker’s displacement from being represented as individual people. In the end, corporate and celebrity culture fall victim to dehumanization as the montages in the film drown the viewers with Kyoko, ultimately displaying the effects and impact of mass consumerism that aid in the company’s progress and Kyoko’s life as a celebrity. In the movie, where almost no greenery exists, in which greenery is rarely seen and life is characterized by shallow grandeur and a concrete jungle, “Giants and Toys” is can be perceived as a story of a group of people slowly losing themselves. When power and influence become the sole goal of one’s existence and purpose, eventually one can get lost in it.

Tampopo: Ramen and the Lessons it Teaches through Community

 

Tampopo and her friends/teachers gazing at the restaurant.

Tampopo, the ever famous ramen western directed by Itami Juzo, incorporates many themes and genres as it satirizes the common tropes and images associated with western films that were popular in America. Alongside the comedy, one of the most prominent themes in Tampopo deals with the daily lives and issues of people from every social class in relation to food and its enjoyment.

In the mise-n-scene shown above Tampopo and her teachers proudly gaze upon their renovated restaurant with pride. This is a medium shot which gives us a nice sense of who these characters are with their differences in attire. Notice the main heroine of the story, Tampopo, stands in the middle of the shot arguably making her the focus of the shot even though she is relatively shorter than the other figures on-screen. The old master, considered to have the most knowledge in regards to noodles out of the entire crew shown in this picture, is the tallest figure standing to the far left. Despite his presence in size, he doesn’t take away from Tampopo’s prominence in the shot. Gun, the only representation for the cowboy here, is nearly hidden being that he is standing behind both Tampopo and the older master. Gun keeps his prominence because of the exaggeration in his facial expression. The person with the highest social status, a legitimately trained noodle chef, who aids in the groups efforts later on in the movie, is to the far right and appears to be the least prominent figure in the group because of his size in the shot in comparison to the trio huddled in the right (which establishes his relatively new position as a friend in this group).

This shot reveals many things about the film. Most notably being the sense of companionship and outright joy at reaching a goal together when viewing the characters smiles alone. With only the blue sky for background, this represents a series of new beginnings for the characters and emphasizes their differences with their attire, which formulates how they would fit into different assumptions, perceptions, and functions in society. This scene is an attempt at unification and strengthens the idea that food, in particular, can be appreciated and valued in all aspects of life while forging a bridge between people of different lifestyles just by these characters standing together in this shot. By utilizing ramen as a base (a relatively unimportant dish in Japanese rituals), the movie creates a caring and humble take on the act of eating and, in essence, sharing its appreciation. Tampopo gathers knowledge from a wide variety of people, which builds up into a sense of community and belonging for her as she later reaches success thanks to the teachings she has accepted. Through ramen, the film is reversing the commonly held stereotypes within this spectrum of Japanese mannerisms and dining to make a relatable story that includes everyone and praises the many ways in which one can show gratitude towards such a fundamental human act. Eating is no longer overlooked or practiced specifically to convey status. In Tampopo eating helps us understand each other.