“Giants and Toys” is a 1958 Japanese satirical drama/comedy film, which is set in Japan during the period of rapid economic growth after World War II, and depicts an advertising war between three big companies in the confectionery industry. It was an adaptation of the novel of the same name (1957) by Takeshi Kaikō. It was directed by Yasuzo Masumura, and produced by Daiei. It stars Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hideo Takamatsu, and Hitomi Nozoe. Color. Widescreen (CinemaScope). 95 minutes.
The story revolves around three characters: advertising department chief of World Confectionery, Ryūji Gōda (Hideo Takamatsu), a new recruit at the same department, Yōsuke Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), and a girl named Kyōko Shima (Hitomi Nozoe).
Gōda brings Kyōko into fashion through the media and uses her to promote World Confectionery’s caramel.
The original of “Giants and Toys” is a short story by Takeshi Kaikō, which was published in the literary magazine “Bungakukai” in 1957. It was an early work in “business novel” genre, and it reflects Kaikō’s working experience in the advertising department of liquor company Kotobukiya (the present Suntory) during the 1950s.
The film “Giants and Toys” is an avant-garde and modernist film and a cynical dark comedy film, which caricatured dehumanization in modern capitalism, which is characterized by mass production and consumerism, commercialism, ad creep, and mass manipulation by the media.
The style of the film is marked by bright colors, rapidly developing story, and machine-gun dialogues.
The film is similar in subject to the American comedy film “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (1957) directed by Frank Tashlin, which was a satire on the advertising industry.
The episode of Kyōko as an overnight celebrity is similar to the American film “A Face in the Crowd” (1957) directed by Elia Kazan.
In the film, Gōda comes up with the idea of using spacesuits to promote World Caramel. This setting reflects the space boom at that time, which was caused by the Soviets’ launch of the world’s first artificial satellite “Sputnik 1” in 1957.
From the present perspective, it seems like a prescient film that predicted the trend of contemporary society since the 1960s.
This film also includes a critical perspective on the peculiarly Japanese business system (lifetime employment and seniority), which was the backbone of the high economic growth. In the film, Gōda is portrayed as the personification of workaholic office workers devoting themselves to their companies, who had been called “Mōretsu Shain (hardworking employees)” from the late 1960s.
Though this film was a box-office disaster when it was released in Japan, it was ranked number ten in the 1968 top 10 (Japanese Film category) of Japanese film magazine “Kinema Junpō”, and then it became highly regarded as a masterpiece by critics in and out of Japan.
Arrow Video (UK/US) released the restoration of the film on Blu-ray in 2021.
Plot (Spoiler Alert)
World Confectionery suffers from their sluggish sales of caramel, which is their core product, because they have competed intensely with companies in the same business, Apollo Confectionery and Giant Caramel Company, over sales.
Executives at World Confectionery order the advertising department to think up new advertising ideas to outdo their competitors in the upcoming sales campaign.
Gōda is a 38-year-old successful adman who became the chief at a young age after marrying the department director’s daughter to get ahead in his career. A new recruit at the advertising department, Nishi respects Gōda as a boss.
Nishi meets up again with his college friend Yokoyama, who works at the advertising department of the rival Giant Caramel Company. Yokoyama introduces Nishi to Masami Kurahashi, who works at the advertising department of another rival company, Apollo Confectionery. Nishi enters into a romantic relationship with Kurahashi.
Nishi tries to get information about the advertising strategies of the rival companies from Yokoyama and Kurahashi.
Gōda encounters Kyōko Shima, a 18-year-old working-class girl who works as a clerk at a taxi company. Kyōko is a unique girl who is characterized by her winsome smile and bad teeth.
Gōda plans to use Kyōko as their trade character to promote World Caramel after bringing her into fashion.
Gōda conceives the idea that they will offer spacesuits as prizes to World Caramel buyers. Meanwhile, Giant is going to offer living animals, such as little monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, and squirrels, as prizes to their caramel buyers.
Gōda uses mass media to promote Kyōko as a model. He makes photographer Harukawa take pictures of her, and puts them in weekly magazines. He makes her appear on a radio show and a fashion show. She becomes a medium darling.
Nishi starts working as Kyōko’s manager at Gōda’s direction. Kyōko falls in love with Nishi.
Gōda makes Kyōko have an exclusive contract with World as an advertising model. Kyōko appears in a TV commercial and poster advertising for World Caramel, wearing a spacesuit and wielding a ray gun.
The sales campaign war between the three companies begins. Apollo Caramel enjoys strong sales because Apollo offers “funds for living expenses from cradle to wedding” as prizes.
Kyōko tells Nishi that she loves him, but Nishi rejects her because he loves Kurahashi. Kyōko leaves Nishi, and she finds her new manager and a lover.
Apollo is forced to stop manufacturing caramels because their Kawasaki factory is burned down by a fire. To take advantage of this opportunity to make profits, World increases the production of caramel, and Gōda also entertains retailers for sales promotion, but the sales of World Caramel remain sluggish.
Gōda becomes worn-out both physically and mentally, and he comes to vomit blood because he keeps working like crazy, taking tranquilizers and stimulant drugs.
Nishi proposes marriage to Kurahashi, but she refuses his proposal because she wants to continue her work.
Gōda asks Kyōko to appear in a space exhibition to boost sales, but she declines his offer. She has fixed her cavity and started working as a singer and dancer.
Gōda orders Nishi to have a sexual relationship with Kyōko to persuade her. Nishi visits the nightclub Kyōko appears in. Kyōko sings an exotic song and dances with back dancers dressed in tribal costumes on the stage. Nishi meets her at her backstage room, but she disfavors him. Nishi finds that his friend Yokoyama had left Giant and became Kyōko’s manager and lover.
Nishi goes back to the World’s office and reports his failure to Gōda. Nishi becomes disillusioned with his work, and he has lost respect for Gōda. Nishi quarrels with Gōda, and he offers his resignation.
Gōda tries to wear a spacesuit and to promote World Caramel on the street, vomiting blood. Being caught in a dilemma between his loyalty to his company and his disillusionment with his work, Nishi knocks Gōda down in his desperation, and he wanders around the streets of Ginza, wearing a spacesuit.