Author Archives: mgazmen

Giants and Toys: Caramel Laborers

In the 1958 Japanese comedy movie Giants and Toys directed by Yasuzo Masumura, a depiction of the time when Japan was going through a massive economic growth is captured. Alongside the rapid economic burst in Japan, the evolution of the resulting corporate culture is also satirized. Through the film, Masumura highlights a candy company’s competition against two other rival businesses over the sale of caramel. In fact, the mass production of the caramels goes beyond the direct means of profit and consumer satisfaction, but also symbolizes one of the main foundations that serviced the initiation of the economic surge: Japan’s work force. Clearly, the chase for the dominance of caramel sales between the three companies’ is a corruptive force in the Japanese society, and can even be traced to the examination of the what the ‘caramel’ really is.

The opening scene of Masumura’s Giants and Toys displays workers all striding in the street in a monotonous fashion. All the workers seamlessly blend in together to a point where no unique individuals can be identified. Even Yousuke, an employee of the World candy company manages to disappear as a long shot of the whole crowd develops. This dull parade of workers represents the same monotonous appearance of the massive amounts of products, specifically caramels, which are being produced in the factories. In addition, these consumer goods are being produced by the same exact workers that are marching in this scene of the movie. The workers are all alike, just like the caramels.

Marching clone-like workers

Marching clone-like workers

Although the workers are human, during the economic boom in Japan, they were hardly considered to be so by the corporate bosses as the workers only service was to benefit the profit and success of the company. The corporate bosses are not too concerned with the wellbeing of their workers. Yousuke progresses during the film by becoming a loyal employee to the World candy company, and even he gets overlooked as World’s mascot girl, Kyoko reaches celebrity status. Accordingly, Kyoko is also objectified as her purpose is only to boost the sale of the caramel candy, just like all the other employees working for World. There is no individualism present under the perspective of the corporate bosses, only the success of the company

Mindset of corporate leaders

Mindset of corporate leaders

The caramels being made in the factories are very simply made. This also means that more of the product can be made and the profit of the sale is high because the cost to make the caramels is low as the main ingredients in the caramel include sugar, milk and butter. The low-cost caramels further the representation of the workforce because the workers are treated as if they were of low importance. Workers can be replaced at any point and with little hesitation from the corporate leaders. This change into the objectification of the workers all appeared in the Japanese society due to the corruptive impact of the growing economy, and is important to notice that before, workers were treated differently when labor was not centralized in cities and businesses.

Caramel laborers

Caramel laborers

Masumura’s depiction of the corporate culture in Japan during the immense economic expansion features the objectification of the workers that serviced the companies’. The objectification of the workers is even linked to the caramels that were being produced in the factories, as both worker and caramel are placed in terms of mass quantity with no independent or individual features at all. Interestingly enough, the pair of caramel and worker, although disparate in many ways, are similar in treatment, and for all wrongful reasons.

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Momotaro: Community through Cuisine

Is food simply a means of nutrition and sustenance? Or does the act of eating and sharing food with another individual actually act as a connecting force? In many ways, when food is consumed with others, a bond can be created because meals that are shared are tied within a sense of family and community. Having meals with a family or a group of people is a common fixture of the cultures in the world, and food is a main focus that distinguishes different cultures. However, the most important aspect of food is the ability of the cuisine to bring people together. In fact, in the Japanese culture, food is a definite unifier. Food is utilized in different areas rather than just the dinner table. For example, food is inscribed in the famous Japanese folktale, Momotaro. Momotaro is a popular Japanese hero, and within Momotaro’s story, food is incorporated within the plot and unites characters in a communal and familial manner. The traditional story of Momotaro has been reused in various literal and visual works that include the film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles by Mitsuyo Seo and the text of Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotaro. Although the many versions of Momotaro focus on him being a superb leader, one aspect that is integrated in these stories is the idea that the sharing of food is a superb consolidating force which can build camaraderie, even with similar results of the lead of a great commander.

Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro, which is folkloric in text, is a traditional representation of Momotaro. The role of food in this version of Momotaro becomes present through the offerings of Momotaro’s guardians, the Old Man and the Old Woman. As Momotaro is about to depart on his journey to defeat the Ogres of Ogres’ Island, the “Old Man also set about preparing suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Sazanami, p. 21). The elderly couple prepares millet dumplings to send off with Momotaro as nourishment on his voyage, but this exchange of food also represents the deep familial affection of the Peach-boy’s guardians. To send off Momotaro with the simple millet dumplings seems to be such a humble offering for the beloved son, but in fact the focus on the offering being food is simply emphasizing the ability of food to act as a unifier and a portrayal of love and care. In the later sections of Sazanami’s Momotaro, the millet dumplings continue to represent communal relationships between other characters. Upon meeting his first animal comrades, the Dog, Momotaro receives the Dog’s compliance to accompany him on his journey after Momotaro presents the hound with half of “the best millet dumplings in Japan” (Sazanami, p. 25). However, in this relationship, Momotaro clearly has more power as before the offering of the millet dumpling and the Dog’s compliance; Momotaro had to intimidate the Dog through violent proclamations as the Dog falsely assumed greater dominance upon the initial point of encounter. Upon meeting the last two animal comrades, the monkey and the pheasant, Momotaro also receives the animals’ compliance to join his squadron after the offering of half of a millet dumpling. This parallel means of obtaining each member of his group represents the formation of camaraderie through each of the animals’ common initiation into the group by the consumption of food: the humble millet dumpling. This sense of the communal bonding ability of food is different from the bonding of Momotaro and his guardians in respect to the type of relationship that exists. Since Momotaro possessed the power in his relationship with his animal comrades the offering of food promotes his control, while in his relationship with his guardians the offering of food promotes their love. This distinction between the offerings of food in Sazanami’s Momotaro exemplifies the familial and communal connections of food and the creation of the consequent relationships.

Mitsuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is a film that reuses the idea of the folktale Momotaro with a focus on the ability of food to form communities, and even introduces the capacity of food to generate nationalism in Japan. To begin with, in Seo’s visual representation of Momotaro, millet dumplings are also the source of food, which is consumed as rations in Momotaro’s army. In this case the millet dumplings are a source of sustenance to prepare the animal army in their mission to destroy Demon Island, but also depict the millet dumpling as a source of strength, camaraderie, and national pride. In one scene, two animal troops consume their ration of millet dumplings right before entering combat in Demon Island. One of the monkey troops suddenly gains strength from the dumpling as a bicep erupts from his arms signaling that his strength will carry out into the battle. Often at times, when adversities are ahead for an individual, familiar food is a reliable source of preparation for the hardship as food provides strength and comfort in believing that the hardship is conquerable. Seo’s choice of including the millet dumplings in his revision of Momotaro shows that he favors Japanese cuisine in great respect because the dumplings reflect national pride. The sense of nationalism is also present through the animal army’s foe, the inhabitants of Demon Island, which represent the same Western adversaries faced in Japan’s fight in WWII. The timely release of the film in 1943 coincided with the Second World War and the camaraderie created within the film between Momotaro’s army is meant to carry over into a boost in national pride and morale for Japan’s real world success in combat. This depiction of millet dumpling in the wartime propaganda similarly serves as a communal unifier, likewise to the traditional reflection of Sazanami’s Momotaro, but Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagles conveys a message of food that is also interested in garnering national support and pride.

The influence of Momotaro even reaches such mediums as documentary film. In Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s film, Minimata: The Victims and Their World, the epidemic of Minimata disease in Japan in the 1950s is illustrated. Although food also provides a meaning in this documentary like the other treatments of Momotaro, the implications are equivocal. The consumption of mercury poisoned fish and shellfish inflicts the disease upon the suffering victims, while the sharing of food is also what forms communities in the first place. Once understanding this interpretation of food, one can then observe the films reflection of story of Momotaro. In one section of the documentary, the victims travel to Osaka, Japan, the site of the annual Chisso executive shareholder meeting to protest and plea for reparation to the suffering people in the town where the epidemic struck. One protestor alludes to a location in the story of Momotaro, Ogre Island, and places it in parallel with Osaka. To the victims of the disease, they feel as if they “have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell” (Tsuchimoto, Minimata: The Victims and Their World). This reference to the well-known narrative situates the victims in a familiar, yet unpleasant field as Ogre Island represents suffering and oppression of Japanese people. Ultimately, this comparison of tragic lands constitutes a heightened degree of communal support and togetherness within the mistreated victims of Minimata.

All three representations of the story of Momotaro spotlight the ability of food to construct communal relationships, but do so in ways that result in different themes of community. In Sazanami’s interpretation, the offering of millets dumplings from guardian to son conveys a tender familial bond, and the offering of the same cuisine from general to troops conveys a commanding communal bond within the rank. Through Seo’s interpretation, the consumption of the Japanese dumpling snack as nourishment before battle against the foreign enemies’ reveals a communal connection of the animal army in the form of national pride and camaraderie. In Tsuchimoto’s translation, food offers an ambiguous meaning. Through the consumption of the poisoned fish, food acts as the cause of suffering through the Minimata disease. However, the daily consumption of food within Minimata also acts as the initial aid in creating a sense of community within the town, as the sharing of food with one another is always an active effort of communal relationships. The themes of communal unification generated through the three portrayals of the famous Japanese folktale accomplish similar yet distinct goals, and all successfully achieve these goals with the material and symbolic representation of food.

The Gourmet Club: Exoticism of Food

Exotic is not of the norm. Exotic is foreign and is discovered in distant places. Exotic is beautiful. In Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s literary piece, “The Gourmet Club”, Jun’ichiro describes a small group of five men from Japan that relentlessly search the country for exotic food, and are always ready and willing to venture to far off places in order to taste new flavors. The gluttony of the five men is derived from their everyday quest for exotic food, and they surely do not care how rich or lavish the food is because their sole purpose in life is to eat and feast on the finest cuisine. In fact, throughout the story, Jun’ichiro addresses food in a way that dramatizes the idea of exoticism by describing the food encountered by the five men in great detail. Exoticism encompasses concepts of foreign and rare items that are unusual to one culture, but are authentic and indigenous to the culture of the other. Other concepts that are built within exoticism include beauty through bizarre aesthetic, and extremity through the means of discovering the foreign goods. It is clear throughout Jun’ichiro’s story that food has the ability to express such a profound idea as exoticism, and to do so, Jun’ichiro embeds the text with intriguing examples that illustrate exoticism in a precise manner.
In the beginning section of “The Gourmet Club”, the protagonist and head of the club known as Count G, is always having visions of food, either “asleep or awake” (p. 104). In one instance from pages 104-106, the Count witnesses an array of food and smells the aromas that rise from the dishes, but this event is occurring within a dream. Upon viewing and smelling all the food, the Count focuses on to “the finest, largest shellfish…that the Count had ever seen,” and as he watches the shellfish being prepared, “odd-looking wrinkles” begin to form “on the surface of that vicious white substance” (p. 105). Even though the shellfish was the finest that the Count had ever seen, there was a strange appearance to the shellfish as unusual wrinkles emerged on the meat. This account of the fine shellfish having a strange appearance provides a juxtaposition in regards to beauty, as beauty is characterized by refined and pleasant appearances, while the Count has seen beauty within the bizarre looking shellfish as he is not too concerned with the appearance of the shellfish but rather the beauty of the delicious taste of the shellfish. The beauty seen by the Count in the grotesque shellfish exhibits exoticism as exoticism concerns beauty, but in a subjective manner because to some people, food might not be beautiful, but to the Count and to the remaining members of the club, food is beautiful and is a form of art.
In another section of “The Gourmet Club”, Count G discovers a place in Tokyo that serves Chinese food “for Chinese people only” (p. 113). After talking to a few attendants of the place he manages to make his way inside, and as he tours the facility, he sees “shelf hung chunks of pork loin and pigs’ legs with the skin still on” (p. 114). The shaved skin of the hung meat resembles the skin of a woman, and even a print of a Chinese woman is placed next to the meat. This event exhibits exoticism because Count G discovers authentic Chinese food with the pork loin and pig’s legs, and the cuts of pork are compared metaphorically to the picture of the Chinese woman on the wall which furthers the meats authenticity to the Chinese culture in an sense that can been observed as erotic.
These two examples of food effectively display the view of Exoticism in ways that convey ideas of the subjective beauty of food, and the authenticity of foreign foods. Without exoticism, the food in Jun’ichiro’s work, “The Gourmet Club” would entail no excitement at all, and truly with exoticism, food is glorified and described with immense appreciation which all translates to a magnificent food lovers’ tale.

The Power of Food

In the 1985 film, Tampopo, directed by Itami Juzo, food is conveyed in a way that surpasses its means as sustenance and nutrition.  In between the main story that concerns the protagonist, Tampopo’s attempt to revitalize her run down ramen shop with the help of new found friends, Itami Juzo includes very integral cut scenes that display more than just the Tampopo’s journey.  The perfectly timed cut scenes that Juzo includes in the film, reflects his view that food is a very powerful force in connecting people, communities, and families.

In one scene that exemplifies Juzo’s position that food is a bonding force in the lives of numerous people is the scene where a man rushes home to his family on a dark, rainy night.  The scene begins as the man runs swiftly through the wet city and arrives at his house, only to find a tragic and horrific sight.  The man’s wife is dying on the floor, while a doctor and nurse attend to her, and even their three children watch in horror.  In a frantic and scared state, the man shakes his wife as he commands her to make food for dinner.  The motionless and pale wife then rises to cook a meal for her husband and three children.  The only reason that the wife rises after her husband commands her to cook is because to her it is the most significant and crucial role in her life.  Her cooking is what joins their family together and what connects them as one.  The mother’s cooking is the perfect and seemingly only way that she can express her love for her family in her final hours. In fact, as the sickly wife prepares the food, her concerned husband hears a train nearby and the camera suddenly cuts to the image of the passing train.  The presentation of the train symbolizes the saddening truth that like the train, the wife is nearing her final stop.  Even though the wife knows she is near her death, in a serene close up she smiles upon viewing her family enjoy her food at the dinner table.  This all leads up to the most important shot in the film where the father urges his crying children to continue to eat the meal that the wife had prepared, despite the fact that the doctor just announced her dead in her collapsed position in front of the family.

tampopo

‘A Family’s Final Meal’

This long shot is important because it presents Juzo’s sensibility that the food bonds people with more strength than any other aspect of life.  The only reason why the father urged his children to continue to eat the food was because it was the last meal they would ever eat from their mother, and in a further sense, it was the last time that the family would be able to connect with their mother and feel her love as they were essentially taking in the mother’s spirit through the simple yet profound bowl of rice.

Throughout the film, Juzo touches on the many different ways that food plays in our daily lives, but the most paramount role that food has is its ability to bring people together and form everlasting bonds.