Giants & Toys (Cert 12)
1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 95 minutes approx.
Release Date – May 10th
Sex sells, we all know that but if that isn’t an acceptable route to take then how about using a celebrity instead? And if you can’t get a celebrity to sell you products then why not create a celebrity of your own? All is far in business and war after all.
In post-War Japan, American-style consumerism along with their imports poses a huge threat to traditional Japanese wares. One area feeling this is the confectionary market where Japanese caramels are losing out to US candies. Three companies, Apollo, World, and Giant, are each preparing for their next big promotional push all needing a killer campaign to reclaim sweets for Japan.
Over at World, marketing man Ryuji Goda (Hideo Takamatsu) has been given the task of coming up with their campaign, deciding they need a poster girl to sell their caramels. At a tea shop he spots 18 year-old tomboy Kyoko Shima (Hitomi Nozoe) – young, pretty, vivacious but with the worst teeth! Regardless, Goda sets out to make Kyoko a star to boost sales, but as Kyoko’s popularity grows so does her ego.
Who would have thought chocolate caramels would be at the centre of a bitter business war in polite Japan? This satire directed by Yasuzo Masumura ponders that very idea, based on the novel by Takeshi Kaikō, which also looks at the lengths workers will push themselves for their companies. The notoriously exhausting Japanese work ethic is the stuff of legend but the US style dirty tactics employed is something very different.
Filmed in glorious colour, Masumura predates the youthful energy and vibrant aesthetic of 60s US beat movies by a good few years with something that could easily have come from Hollywood. If it wasn’t for the language and ethnic appearances you’d never have suspected this was set in Japan, but this is crucial to replicating the very western ideals being scorned, maybe making it feel very real for domestic audiences at the time.
The usual Japanese amiability is replaced by money hungry men promising hell if their sales don’t increase, prepared to take off the gloves if necessary. Goda recruits junior Yousuke Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) who is dating Masami Kurahashi (Michiko Ono) of Apollo, whilst his school friend Tadao Yokoyama (Kôichi Fujiyama) works for Giant, tow handy sources for the latest gossip.
Apollo have yet to show their hand whilst Giant sticks to the tried and tested gimmick of using Sumo wrestlers as celebrity attractions and giving away animals as prizes, which Goda wants to move away from. He recognises modern kids are into sci-fi, space ships, and laser guns, etc. so having a cute girl in a space suit giving away associated toys and other tie-ins is a winner.
Having been giving the go-ahead, Goda first has to make Kyoko a star, having her pose for a magazine shoot with sleazy photographer Junji Harukawa (Yûnosuke Itô) to capture her quirky personality. The magazine is a hit so the next step is fashion modelling then voiceover work before unleashing Kyoko on their posters, TV ads, and the promotional campaign trial, rivalling Giant’s pet giveaway with a caveman attired pro-wrestler.
But it is not just Kyoko who gets bigheaded, Goda begins to believe he is invincible too and works doubly hard to get ahead of Giant, after Apollo is forced to drop out due to a fire at their factory. This however takes a toll of his health, echoing that of his aging marketing director Yashiro (Kinzô Shin) whose pill popping and coughing up of blood due to the pressure of the job is a fate Goda can look forward to if he isn’t careful.
Meanwhile, Kyoko is having the time of her life, earning a salary eclipsing that at the taxi firm, being recognised by adoring fans, and open to waning to branch out into singing and acting. The only thing missing in her life is love, having fallen for Nishi, but he only he eyes for Masami and doesn’t find Kyoko attractive, sounding the death knell for the relationship between her and World, just as the campaigns are reaching fever pitch.
Now, it comes down to who will fall first – World without their star or Kyoko without Goda and his publicity machine guiding her. This story might be old hat for Hollywood but was probably a novelty for Japanese audiences, whose culture gives it a unique perspective. Masumura ensures the allusions easy to recognise but avoids being blatant, saving the sledgehammer blows for the last act.
Japan was a country undergoing a huge change and the script is as much a battle of old vs. new but no sides are taken here, showing the benefits that can come from embracing new ideas but not at the expense at ones identity, culturally and personally. It may have been serendipity that this film feels like swinging 60s Hollywood yet it wouldn’t have worked so well had it been firmly rooted in the traditions of Japanese cinema.
Kurosawa and Ozu this isn’t, and we could infer this modern energetic style of Masumura is his throwing down the gauntlet to the old guard to get with the times – respectfully of course. The provocation of the story is matched by the effervescence of its star Hitomi Nozoe, a tornado of charisma, cuteness, and youthful vitality as Kyoko even with the horrific dentures, working alongside her future husband Hiroshi Kawaguchi, as the film’s de facto conscience Nishi.
Giants & Toys looks like a product of its time yet is way ahead of the curve as a stinging satire, not to mention the scenarios depicted still occur to this day, only nastier. It’s a shame that lessons haven’t been learned from this razor sharp observation, but the fact they exist means we get to fun slices of cinema like this to enjoy in its stead. And thanks to this fantastic new Blu-ray release from Arrow this overlooked gem can reach a new audience.
Japanese 1.0 Soundtrack
Audio Commentary by Irene González-López
Introduction by Tony Rayns
In The Realm Of The Publicists
First Pressing Only:
Illustrated Collector’s Booklet
Rating – ****
Man In Black