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  Giants and Toys Sweet Tooth, Bitter Truth
Year: 1958
Director: Yasuzo Masumura
Stars: Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hitomi Nizoe, Hideo Takamatsu, Tatsuo Hanabu, Fuji Haramoto, Yunosuke Ito, Kyu Sazanka, Kinzo Shin, Mantaro Ushio, Koichi Fujiyama, Hisako Horigome, Hikaru Hoshi, Koichi Ito, Naoyasu Ito, Hiroko Machida, Sachiko Meguro
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: There are three major confectionary companies in Japan, World, Giant and Apollo, and Yosuke Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) works for World, which after some success is now in third place in popularity compared to the other two. They are desperate to find a turnaround in that slide, so decide on a new theme for their formerly bestselling caramel brand: outer space and science fiction, because what kid is not captivated by that right now? But the boss, Mr Goda (Hideo Takamatsu) wants to go further, get a mascot for this promotion, so what better candidate than a teenage girl who answers phones for a taxi firm, plucked from obscurity?

She is Kyoko (Hitomi Nizoe), and she is initially reluctant to embrace manufactured fame, but in a mark of the cynicism of Giants and Toys, she assuredly gets used to it. This was directed by the prolific Yasuzo Masumura, a powerhouse of Japanese cinema from the nineteen-fifties to the seventies who wished to bring his Europhile sensibility back to his homeland, though funnily enough the filmmaker most mentioned in conjunction with this movie was that arch-lampooner of American values and culture, Frank Tashlin, specifically his wild advertising satire Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? from around the time this was produced and released.

Although Tashlin had the similar killer instinct on display here, Masumura was crueller, as befitting the general, arising attitude to the salaryman culture of Japan that there might be another way of enjoying your life than working yourself to a literal death. Indeed, though Giants and Toys had a sense of humour in the initial stages, that evaporated over the course of an hour and a half as everyone became grotesque caricatures of business folk and those in their orbit, clawing at one another to get those all-important sales. This happens to the extent that whatever souls they could have previously laid claim to have been well and truly packaged and sold some time ago.

Some hailed Masumura as a genius, with this film as exhibit A in that decision, but in truth with this he is far too overbearing in his depictions of Japan, as if he had fallen out of love with the country and was determined to teach it a lesson for not being as progressive and in touch with the good things in life as his beloved Europe and Italy. This leaves an experience that pops with smart imagery throughout, but is so critical of its characters that you do not respect any of them, and as a result feel terrible for anyone who goes into the publicity business if this is what it does to them. While the earlier stages have a satirical zing, by the close it's a hammer of disdain cracking open the heads of those who have given themselves over to the worship of the great god Mammon with self-righteous attack.

Take Goda, who Nishi previously worships as a figurehead of how to succeed in business: when we see his neglected wife, we wonder if he has made the right life choices, and when he starts to cough up blood thanks to the extreme pressure he is under at work, we know that he has made a fool of himself to sell trinkets and candy to kids, stuff that should by all rights be utterly trivial. Kyoko meanwhile is a novelty for being a teen with bad teeth, it would appear, but her newfound popularity goes to her head and she becomes a showbiz monster who rejects Nishi's attempts to get her to play the game and continue to promote World. The last shots are sobering, to say the least: nobody dies, of course, but Nishi might as well be dead inside by how he has debased himself to sell caramels, he has lost any hope of happiness to the machine of commerce. You could accuse this of being overdoing it, though the suspicion that it might not be too much of an exaggeration renders it an uneasy watch for that reason. Music by Tetsuo Tsukahara.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Yasuzo Masumura  (1924 - 1986)

Prolific Japanese director who made over 60 films in a 30-year career. Tokyo born Masumura began work as an assistant director in the late 1940s, and studied film in Rome, before debuting in 1957 with the bleak social drama Kisses. Masumura constantly challenged the conventions and restrictions of Japanese cinema, with often surreal films like Giants and Toys and The Black Test Car that attacked corporate life and championed the individual. Other notable films include Manji, which dealt with bisexuality and suicide, Red Angel, the harrowing story of a nurse who saves the life the man who raped her, and Blind Beast, the intense, S&M themed tale of an artist and his model. Masumura died of a brain hemorrhage in 1986.

 
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