Category Archives: Giants and Toys

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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Tadpoles and Space Suits

In the 1950s, Japan was experiencing a rapid economic growth and the side effects that followed. Giants and Toys, a movie directed by Yasuzo Masumura in 1958, is a satirical film that criticizes the destructive force of Japan’s mass-production and the emphasis on growth and progress during the 1950s. The film achieves this purpose by juxtaposing two opposing themes such as Kyoko and Nishi, and space suit and tadpoles.

In the movie, the space suit represents progress and growth, for space exploration is an idea that looks far ahead into the future. The tadpoles also evoke a sense of progress and potential for growth, but much slower, and requiring close, personal care. Likewise, Kyoko represents the fast-growing Japanese economy fueled by big corporates and mass production, while Nishi’s character stands for the general public and the working class, struggling to keep up with the rapid developments and changes. In the movie, after Kyoko puts on a space suit and becomes a star of the World Company, two tadpoles end up dying. This dying of the tadpoles, which used to contribute to her humble image is a metaphor to how Kyoko’s naiveté and uniqueness was lost in her pursuit of success, and her joining of the corporate world.

Harukawa, the photographer, is telling the journalists Kyoko is just like any other girl, except the fact that she keeps tadpoles.

Harukawa, the photographer, is telling the journalists Kyoko is just like any other girl, except the fact that she keeps tadpoles.

Kyoko is on television in a space suit, while people comment on how she has changed.

Kyoko is on television in a space suit, while people comment on how she has changed.

Kyoko is a very dynamic character that undergoes many changes. In the beginning, she is a humble girl who is in love with Nishi and takes care of her brothers and sisters. As the plot develops, she slowly turns into one of the mass-produced stars, by imitating other stars and consciously trying to act like one of them; she is forced to read off the script that is given to her, and to lie about her sick father. Towards the end, she is very aware of what other stars do, and she actively tries to fit herself into that role of a star.

Kyoko tells Nishi that she wants to learn music and jazz like the others.

Kyoko tells Nishi that she wants to learn music and jazz like the others.

As Kyoko becomes more successful, she starts to lose her old character and her character begins to match her public image and her role as a star. She even rejects Nishi whom she loved and chooses his friend who promises her of wealth and success as a star. Her naiveté is lost, and as she adapts to the business world, she becomes just like any other mass-produced products, even like the caramels that she wanted to sell.

The CEO compares the people to caramels, the expendable, identical, mass-produced goods

The CEO compares the people to caramels, the expendable, identical, mass-produced goods

On the other hand, Nishi is a character that has just recently joined the World Company and when he becomes close to his boss Goro, there is some hope of success for him. His work constantly interferes with his personal life, however, forcing him to make love to Kyoko and costing his friendship. Unlike Kyoko, he continues to reject Kyoko and the company ends up losing her, and naively trusts his friend. At the end he tries to quit his job and turns very bitter towards the corporate life. In the ending scene, he wanders on the street wearing a space suit, trying to fit into the society and act his role as a worker. However, compared to Kyoko he does not smile, and looks very out-of-place, and people pass by laughing at him.

Both Kyoko and Nishi’s character help to illustrate how the corporate world can affect individuals in either way. Kyoko is a character that chose to conform to the demands of the society and in turn she loses her unique and humble character. Nishi chooses to reject his role and he has fallen behind, and people laugh at him wearing a spacesuit on the street. Using these two opposing characters, the director tries to demonstrate a common theme of how Japan’s growing economy and corporate culture are negatively affecting people.

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.

Pas de Sortie: Cul-de-Sac in Japanese Business

19 years from 1954 to 1973 in Japanese History are known as ‘Japanese post-war Economic Miracle”. The rapid economic growth during this period brought Japan to the 2nd place of world GDP ranking; this growth from burnt-out country to the center of the economy was what world referred as ‘miracle’. Some argued that the Japanese ‘hard-working’ and ‘one for all’ spirits were the basis of this growth. While contributing the to the growth of the company, business, and the country Japan, there are also criticisms that such Japanese business custom, that still have a strong influence on nowadays Japan had created the habit of the company to sacrifice humanity in order to maximize profits. In the movie ‘Giants and Toys’, the director Yasuzo Masumura shows the devaluation of humanity in Japanese business culture by using the comparison between two characters Nishi and Kyôko, and also expresses that there is no way to get out of this culture if you were living in this country.

In the beginning of the film Nishi, the new employee in World Caramel, seems to fit in the business culture. For example, the scene right after the title role shows Nishi within a mass number of office workers wearing the same suits and walking in the same direction those seem like an army marching. The opening music with violent lyrics also contributes to the image of Japanese workers as unified army. Nishi shows his qualities and knowledge as a businessperson mainly by treating the newcomer in the business world, Kyôko as ignorant. While Nishi is, or at least he thinks himself is, suited in the business culture, he still has faith in his friendship with Yokoyama. They make a promise with each other to retain their friendship regardless of their rivalry between their companies. However, their friendship ends when betrays Nishi and steals Kyôko away from World Caramel. When Kyôko’s dehumanization, corruption of friendship with Yokoyama, and Gôda’s greed hematemesis all add up, and disillusion Nishi, Nishi determines to escape from the dehumanized business world. He takes off his suit, or his uniform and changes to the space suit, that shows alienation and security from the others. However, as Gôda says ‘There is nowhere you could escape; this is Japan’, Nishi’s attempt to escape from the business world ends up to be seen as a campaign for World Caramel since he is wearing the space suit with the World Caramel Flag. The creepy smile he shows perhaps implies that Nishi would go back to World Caramel after all.

On the other hand, Kyôko, who was an innocent lively girl alienated from harsh survival game in the concrete jungle, loses her humanity as she increases her populartity and become more capitalized. The decline of her humanity is shown through the death of her tadpoles, the symbol of her humanity or innocence. The first tadpole, Yûchan, dies when she first appered on magazine. At this point, Kyôko notices her tadpole’s death and cares about it. However, her last tadpole dies, which is also when she starts to star in TV commercials, only her former co-workers notice the death of the tadpole. This scene creates a strong association of Kyôko’s success with the decline of humanity by showing the TV screen with the tadpole can. The following scenes emphasize the contrast with dreamful success and harsh reality. The scene in which Gôda and Harukawa watching TV and the scene in which Nishi and the ex-star watching Kyôko both shows that there is a cruel survival race behind the capitalism success. While tadpoles show the decline of humanity, the changes of Kyôko’s clothes show her degree of capitalization. At first, she is wearing casual somewhat low-classy clothes. As she became famous, she starts to wear accessories, wears a dress when she asks Nishi to go out for shopping. After her affection, the last thing which kept her innocent, was rejected by Nishi, she metamorphose into a ‘celebrity’ by dying her hair, wearing a snobbish clothes and earrings, and smoking.

In conclusion, Masumura shows dehumanization through two perspectives Kyôko as a subject, and Nishi as an observer. Moreover, the ending scene in which Nishi also became a subject of dehumanization, Masumura creates a feeling of a Japanese business culture as a cul-de-sac one could not get out.

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Nishi as an office worker army member

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Kyôko’s last tadpole dies while her co-workers are watching her TVCM

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 Dream in the TV screen and Reality

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Shadow of the TV world

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Metamorphosis from ‘Imo’ girl to a Star

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Nishi’s Rebellion: Nowhere to go

Parallels of Consumption: Food as a Reflection of Social Hierarchies in Japanese Film

The interactions between humans and the food that they consume is more than a simple matter of sustenance or survival. In his documentary Minamata: The Victims and Their World, Tsuchimoto Noriaki provides an intimate and in-depth portrait of the Minamata residents affected by large-scale industrialization, exploring how the consumption of food and its subsequent effect on a certain community reflects the broader dynamics of society. This idea is carried throughout the films Tampopo and Giants and Toys in the directors’ treatment of their respective female protagonists, revealing a common narrative shared by the women and the food they are surrounded by, and how this parallel between the individual and the object of consumption reflects relationships between marginalized people and structures of power.

Tsuchimoto’s documentary on the residents of Minamata and their victimization by the mercury poisoning caused by the Chisso company factory that was established in Minamata provides a compelling nonfictional example of the close relationship between a community and the food it consumes, and how structures of socioeconomic power profoundly affects this relationship and therefore the individuals which make up the community. Tsuchimoto establishes the intimacy of the film with its very first shot, of a fishing boat on calm waters. The stillness of the scene implies a sense of harmony between the Minamata fishermen and their natural environment which is the source of the food that they consume. In this scene, there is only the ambient noise of the environment serving as the soundtrack. This choice of soundtrack carries throughout the film—there is no background music which would disingenuously dramatize the story that Tsuchimoto wishes to portray, a deliberate choice which creates a naturalistic atmosphere throughout the documentary.

With the stage set for an up-close portrait of the experiences of the Minamata residents, Tsuchimoto goes on to tell their stories through interviews, revealing the parallels between the consumption of food and structures of power. In Minamata, the residents’ lives became deeply and tragically affected by the food they consumed. One resident tells how the fish affected by the Chisso factory’s dumping of waste into the water seemed like an “easy catch”, not realizing that it was because they were, in fact, poisoned. The subsequent consumption of these diseased fish by the residents of Minamata spread the thus-named “Minamata disease” among the population. In the case of Minamata, the ways in which the residents themselves were marginalized by big business and subsequently an apathetic government was made physically manifest in Minamata disease. The residents, who were disempowered by the establishment of the factory and its monopolization of the economic livelihood of the area, became physically disempowered as well by the mercury poisoning caused by Chisso. The consequences of consuming the poisoned fish, then, became a literal representation of how the Chisso company exerted and abused its power over the residents of Minamata. Thus for the residents of Minamata, the food that they consumed became a symbol of their marginalization within the larger structures of socioeconomic and political power.

The idea of food mirroring the individual or the community comes across in fictional films as well in a very pronounced and deliberate way. In the 1985 film Tampopo, directed by Itami Juzo, the eponymous Tampopo rises to success alongside her once-humble ramen shop. In the film, Itami frames Tampopo as humble in a number of ways. To begin with, her name means “dandelion”, a common flower, a weed that grows close to the earth. She owns a ramen shop, and on top of her livelihood being that of serving humble, commmonplace, comfort food, it is not a particularly good ramen shop, either. At the start of Tampopo’s narrative, it is established that she runs her late husband’s ramen shop, focusing her livelihood around a deceased man and as thus providing an example of how Tampopo is indebted to the patriarchal structures of the society that she lives in.

Tampopo surrounded by men

Throughout the film, Tampopo is not only guided by a number of men in improving her ramen and her restaurant, but her main goal becomes to impress certain male consumers of her ramen. Itami chooses to make Tampopo the only recurring female character of importance in the film, the rest delegated to one-shot vignettes. In this decision, Itami isolates Tampopo, contrasting her singular femaleness against a backdrop of men who are both helping and opposing her, thus emphasizing Tampopo’s relationship as a woman living within the patriarchy with the men surrounding her. Tampopo ultimately wins the approval of her male critics through her ramen, and as thus, the product which she makes to be consumed by the general public becomes the vehicle of her own empowerment as a woman. In Tampopo’s narrative, the men are the ones who hold the power to approve or disapprove of her product. As with the residents of Minamata, in the fictional narrative of Tampopo, what one consumes becomes a symbol for relationships of power. As a humble underdog, Tampopo confronts her own marginalization via the production of food for the consumption of others. The victory of Tampopo’s ramen is synonymous with her own personal victory as an individual.

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The mass manufacturing of Kyoko

In the 1958 avant-garde film Giants and Toys directed by Masumura Yasuzo, the parallel relationship between a woman and products of consumption comes through in the character of Kyoko and her rise to stardom through the sponsorship of a caramel company. In Giants and Toys, Kyoko’s role as a product to be consumed is foreshadowed in the opening shot, in which her static image is multiplied and repeated ad nauseum, recalling the production of a mass-manufactured good for the consumption of the general public. Like Tampopo, Kyoko is a common girl, literally picked up off the street in order to become the face of the caramel company. Like Tampopo, Kyoko’s key to succeeding in a world dominated by mass production and consumption is through food.

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…I’ll help you out.”

As the narrative of Giants and Toys progresses, it becomes clear that, in acting as the face of Giant Caramel, Kyoko herself becomes an object that is commodified and sold like the caramels themselves. Masumura comments on it outright when he has one of the characters state that the general public will buy anything sold to them if they are repeatedly told to do so. The fact that Kyoko is initially said to be unattractive attests to this—she is successfully “manufactured” and “sold” just as the caramels she advertises are because the company mass produces her image and repeatedly sends the consumers messages that she is desirable. This reflects her position as an individual within a consumer society—as a person, she can be exploited and marketed to the general public by the corporations with money and influence. Yet despite her objectification both by the company and by the public, Kyoko herself finds empowerment in her commodification. It is through her connection with food that Kyoko becomes wealthy and influential in her own right—she is brought into the spotlight by the consumerist structure and the men who run it, but ultimately is able to exploit the system herself to live how she pleases, shown in the end by how she rejects Yosuke’s attempts to bring her back to the company. Thus like in Tampopo, Kyoko’s personal empowerment as an individual woman is brought about by her connection to food that is meant to be consumed by the public. Society’s acceptance of the caramels that she peddles in turn means its acceptance of herself, making the caramels the medium through which she is able to succeed within a materialistic world.

Both Tampopo and Giants and Toys can be read as success stories for the women that they center around—in both these films, the women come out in the end as victors, with their respective links to food being the vehicle which allows them to overcome institutional power that would otherwise oppose or exploit them. The story of Minamata, however, is different—due to being a documentary account of nonfictional events, there is no neat narrative conclusion to the way in which the plight of the residents is portrayed. What ties these stories together across their disparate genres, however, is how food becomes a medium through which human relationships of power are reflected. What Tsuchimoto’s documentary establishes is a real situation in which food becomes the symbol of human experience. In the fictional accounts of Tampopo and Kyoko, the treatment and consumption of food also come to represent the stories of the women themselves. As thus, the directors of all of these films use food to examine power in society and how it affects individuals who may not initially supported by institutions of power.

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.

What is Left Unsaid: Cultivating Diaries, Poems, and Food

Throughout the course of Japanese 70, we have encountered a series of literature and film that depict a range of genres that cultivate different relationships between humans and food. Upon reflecting, and perhaps due to personal taste, I believe that, from this range of genres, the genre of diaries is the most effective for cultivating a relationship with food. The reasons are its poetic nature, subjectivity, casualness, and accessibility. Above all, I believe the diary genre establishes a personal and intimate relationship between people and food. Specifically, I refer to My Years of Meats and Vibrator to demonstrate this relationship.

In My Year of Meats, we get a personal account from Jane regarding her development of a new cooking program and her encounter with the Flowers family. According to Jane, “While you are shooting them, they are your entire world and you live in the warm, beating heart of their domestic narratives, but as soon as you drive away from the house, away from the family all fond and waving, then it is over” (Ozeki 35-36). This statement marks the intimacy that Jane develops with the program, the family, the wife, and the food. Her accounts are subjective, giving others a perspective from a multitude of perspectives. This leaves the readers the possibility of judging on their own to consider what is left unsaid and what it means.

In addition, her comments, because they are subjective, are also personal. This creates another level of intimacy in which the feelings of Jane are directly portrayed without further manipulation and editing, in contrast to the reshaping publicity in Giants and Toys. Moreover, the interludes of Sei Shōnagon’s diary poems attach a poetic element to the diary genre. Such elements create a sense of brevity, succinctness, and ordinariness, avoiding the distant and unfamiliar feelings typically associated with serious and formal methods.

Shot 1: Food Creating Social Connection on Truck

Similarly, we observe the same type of casualness and ease of access in Vibrator. Rei Hayakawa and Takatoshi embark on a road trip after their random acquaintance at a convenient store. They slowly break the ice with the help of soju, cigarette, and chips. This natural tendency of desiring to eat is complemented with our natural tendency to establish relationships and connections with others. Another important aspect of Vibrator is Rei’s constant self-conscious voices. They represent her innate feelings, without any disguise, and can be seen as a form of mental diary that reminds us again of poetic elements similar to The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon.

In conclusion, I believe the diary genre creates an intimate relationship between people and food. The diary genre lends naturally to the understanding of food through personal accounts and experiences in which we can freely interpret according to our tastes and beliefs. To serve as an extension, I point to the current technology in which personal blogs are so accessible and easy to create, forming a platform in which many foodies share their experiences and thoughts on food. Pictures are not only easily embedded on the blogs, open platforms also enable bloggers and readers to share comments and feedback regarding specific articles. Truly, we have seen how the traditional form of a diary book has transformed in our current generation, marking a more open and interactive yet personal relationship between people and food.

Avant-Garde and Proletarian Factors in Giants and Toys

In Yasuzo Masumura’s 1958 satirical film Giants and Toys, three Japanese caramel candy companies fight to dominate caramel sales. Practically overnight, a girl named Kyoko is turned into World’s new marketing campaign figure—ordinary appearance, rotten teeth, and all—her grinning image plastered onto the front covers of magazines throughout the city. Clearly, the new star system involves using Kyoko and her homely image to appeal to the public masses, dressing her in astronaut suits in accordance with World’s campaign theme, handing her fame and fortune, all for the sake of increasing sales. To further understand this new advertising system, it is helpful to consider avant-garde film and proletarian literature.

Kyoko’s image is on magazine front pages (and in the magazine as well), sold as a commodity.

Avant-garde film is a cinema genre that strays away from mainstream characteristics, bringing a fresh and novel aspect of idea or cinematography into the movie. Giants and Toys is considered an avant-garde film because it displays concepts that were rather advanced for the historical time in which it was made. Masumura was sharp in his observation of the corporate world, channeling his views into a film largely satirizing the superficial and immediate rise to stardom the advertising system often provides for its players, an occurrence that became more and more prevalent into the rest of the 20th and even 21st century.  Additionally, Masumura tinkers with pop art, an art movement popular in the U.S. in the 1950’s, in his introduction scene, when a single image of Kyoko is duplicated repeatedly until the whole screen is filled with miniatures of the same picture. Not only does this representative of avant-garde film, it also symbolizes how as a mascot for World, Kyoko will be molded into a commodity, much like caramels; an image—a thing—to be catered to the public, casually inserted into people’s everyday lives repetitively as part of mass culture. Another example of avant-garde traits in the film include the theme music, a unique piece featuring wild screaming, savage lyrics, and a remarkable fusion of tribal and American jazz. At the peak of stardom, Kyoko’s performance of this song is yet another reminder that her performances are limited, just like her fame, as delineated by the introduction of World’s previous marketing symbol, who still lingers wistfully at the edge of the spotlight.

Kyoko’s image is duplicated in an example of pop art.

Proletarian literature is writing created by the working class for the proletariat that mainly concerns their unfair sufferings and encourages revolution to create social and economic reform. It is relevant to Giants and Toys and its new star system in advertising because both strive to appeal to the working class. Whereas proletarian literature is often a means of augmenting communist support by delivering radical ideas to the working class and arguing for an equal, classless society, World’s new star system endeavors to boost caramel sales by selling to the common people Kyoko’s humble background paired with the popular outer space theme at the time in history when space exploration was the new trend. World’s strategy of using Kyoko is a means of encouraging people to “reform” and buy their caramels, even though World was actually just manipulating Kyoko, consistent with how the corporate world tends to function. Thus, both avant-garde film and proletarian literature are related to the invention of the new advertising strategy World employs in Masumura’s satire Giants and Toys.

Giants and Toys: The Humble Origins of Pop-Art Caramels

Giants and Toys, by Yasuzo Masumura, depicts the invention of a new star system in advertising when World turns Kyoko into a merchandisable star. Proletarian literature allows the audience to understand Kyoko’s image and role in the movie, to be the face of commodity and desire. Genres of avant-garde allow the audience to understand the plot and question notions of time, commodities, and the faces incorporated with them.

Kyoko is the proletarian star of Giants and Toys. She is an average, working-class girl whom Mr. Goda finds randomly on the streets. With her casual attire, average facial features and rotting teeth, she becomes the face of World’s caramels. During the film, the movie displays some of Kyoko’s life: her childish nature of wanting everything for herself; her relationship with her coworkers where she often neglects her work; her relationship with her family whom she loves and argues with; and the dirty, crowded building she calls home. As a girl from a lower middle class family, with average features and an average life, Kyoko is relatable to the audience who live the same average life she does: people who continuously work, eat, and try to live their lives. With this identifiable background, Kyoko becomes the audience’s proletarian hero, as she enters into the unknown world of Caramels and fame; or in the eyes of the audience, from a lower-working class member of civilization to a famous, rich celebrity.

In one scene, Mr. Goda’s lighter malfunctions, a montage of Kyoko’s advertisements play. The lighter becomes a contrasting shadow in background, continuously trying to function; its sound creates a metronome effect, symbolizing time. This scene is one of Masumura’s experiments with avant-garde genres. With the lighter malfunctioning in the background and Kyoko’s montage playing, this scene creates a disorienting concept of time in motion and time inert. Kyoko’s photos play through the scene in a rapid pace symbolizing her rise in fame over time, but the lighter in the background works in a slow pace as though time stopped, disorientating the sense of time. This disorientation is an example of avant-garde, using two different actions in one scene to confuse the audience’s sense of time, symbolizing how Kyoko’s rise in fame is detached from, yet still connected to, time.

Kyoko’s montage which transcends time

 

Kyoko’s montage is also an example of avant-garde film, namely Pop Art. The multiplying photos of Kyoko in World’s caramel advertisements could be compared to the Pop Art of Marilyn; their replicating photos, or increasing number of photos, uses the mechanism that “freezes the star (Marilyn, Liz) in her image as star: no more soul, nothing but a strictly imaginary status, since the star’s being is the icon” (Barthes, pg. 24)[1]. Mr. Goda creates a false image of a kind-hearted Kyoko, photographs several images of her, and sells her image along with World’s caramels to the consumers. Kyoko’s flash of montages displays her as a commodity; the photographs are her, but are also not her. The Kyoko in the advertisements is a fictional Kyoko created by Mr. Goda and World so that her features and her fictional, humble, background can relate to the consumers, attracting them and causing them to desire the caramels she advertises. Though Kyoko poses for those pictures, the photographs produced are not her, they are merchandise.

Kyoko, the face of commodity. Example of replicated photos in Pop Art

 


[1] Roland Barthes, “That Old Thing, Art…” in Post-Pop Art, ed. Paul Taylor (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989), 21-31.

Giants and Toys: A Masterpiece of Prophecy

It is said that Yasuzo Masumura used to have a slogan: “My movies are always ten years ahead.” This seems perfectly accurate on Giants and Toys, a satire comedy directed by him in 1958. Produced after WWII during the period when Japanese economy was about to develop miraculously, the movie portrays the severe marketing strategy competition between three caramel manufacturers: World, Giant and Apollo. World, where Goda and Yosuke work, discovers Kyoko and makes her a star, then uses her to marketing its caramel.

This movie is so unique from the Japanese comedy back at that time. Yasuzo Masumura was trying to make his movie more masculine, instead of the traditional feminine poetic aesthetics. It’s more like a rebel for a director. We can see many symbols of that intention in the movie. Its fast pace, rapid line flow, over exaggerated gesture and nonstop dialogue can rarely be seen in other movies of same kind. Not only its format gives signal of avant-garde, but also the ideas of some scenes make it ahead of its time. No matter the mass production of Kyoko at the beginning, the robotic people stream, or the overwhelming sales figure on the wall, they all convey the idea of mass consumption, which was not a mainstream idea at that time. It was approximately 10 years after the movie was produced did the Japanese ridiculed “economic animal” by other countries in the world. Another shocking aspect is the way the businessmen were depicted. Most of businessmen in the movie back at that time were portrayed as normal, gentle and stable. In Giants and Toys, however, they were depicted without any gentlemanly business ethos. This description of insane workaholics was a breakthrough in the movie industry and was astonishing for the Japanese audience. These features differentiate Giants and Toys, from other movies and make it a pioneer of Japanese comedy.

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The over-exaggerated sales figure shows the crisis of World.

It is true that this is comedy, but we need to dig deeper to see what the director tries to tell us. Under the warm atmosphere where the economy takes off, all the people in the movie, including Goda, Kyoko, Yosuke and his girlfriend, seem to have lost themselves. Yasozu didn’t aim the audience to the rich, but satirize their filthy side to the working-class. In the movie, he created the greedy boss who only wants to win the war of sales and doesn’t care other things. He, a perfect example of bourgeoisie, demands Goda to battle off Giant and Apollo at all cost. Goda, an example of proletariat on the other hand, sacrifices his health to work harder and harder; at the end of the movie, he is almost insane about the success of the marketing campaign. Kyoto turns from an innocent girl to an unctuous media star, haggling over every penny; as her tadpole dies one by one, she can never be back; she will eventually be out of her true identity and become a symbol fragment in the society. Business rookie Yosuke comes to World with dreams, but what wait him are betray and endless throat-cut competition; in the end, he compromises to Goda and wears the spacesuit to continue the campaign; his experience is just an example of the stone collides with alp and gets round off. As a communist, Yasozu tries to criticize the media bombardment, lack of personality and the shallow relationship between people, all brought by profit competition under the rapid development of economy.

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It’s about 10 years later did the mass production become mainstream.

It is a crazy and wild movie, but it’s a prophecy as well. It predicts the giant power of mass consumption and the manipulation to people by mass media.