Blu-ray Release: May 11, 2021
Audio: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono
Run Time: 95:04
Director: Yasuzo Masumura
As a new recruit to the marketing department of World Caramel, fresh-faced graduate Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) is eager to impress his ambitious and hard-nosed boss Goda (Black Test Car’s Hideo Takamatsu), even if it strains his relationships with his college friend Yokoyama (Koichi Fujiyama) and budding love interest Masami (Michiko Ono), who work at the rival companies of Giant and Apollo. With World’s lead over its competitors slipping, the two spot a chance to get back in the race in the shape of the pretty but unsophisticated 18-year-old, Kyoko (Hitomi Nozoe). (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Before he made dark, transgressive masterpieces, like Manji (1964) and Blind Beast (Japanese: Mōjū, 1969), director Yasuzo Masumura made a name for himself adapting Takeshi Kaikō’s award-winning satirical novel Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu, 1958). While nearly as stylishly lurid as his horror films and thrillers, as well as similarly entrenched in Post-war Japanese culture, Giants and Toys is a good entry point into Masumura’s brand of filmmaking and one that puts up fewer cultural barriers for Western audiences. The jokes (which are still dark, just not quite as dark as what you’d see in Blind Beast) are at the expense of the what was happening in the ‘50s business world, but Japan was embracing American capitalism at the time, so there’s not a huge divide between what’s being said here about rank & file office drones working themselves to death, exploitation of women, and the absurdity of capital worship, and what’s being said in Mad Men (2007-2015), to make the obvious modern connection. Giants and Toys’ other concerns – manufactured celebrity, television’s threat to movies – are similarly universal for the mid-to-late-’50s, but arguably require the context of the region’s fear of their own cultural losses to fully appreciate. Fortunately, the presentation is wacky and buoyant enough to entertain without the benefit of context or even subtitles.
In an essay collected in Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts (Routledge, 2007), Michael Raine argues that Giants and Toys’ isn’t entirely successful as a social satire, due to a garbled message and cipher-like characters, and that the film’s true value within the oncoming Japanese New Wave is its groundbreaking Modernist style. Though not as jaw-droppingly chic as, say, Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter (Japanese: Tōkyō nagaremono, 1966), Masumura’s modernist imagery, which he attributed to his respect for/study of European cinema from the era, is certainly dramatic and a nice thematic match for its subject matter, specifically the empty flash of the so-called Golden Age of Advertising and colorful appeal of products aimed at children, like candy, toys, and comic books. These pop sensibilities are complimented by mile-a-minute, screwball-style dialogue, rapid-fire time-lapse, and an apocalyptic sense of dissolving reality (the latter of which being something that Masumura perfected for the absolutely nightmarish Blind Beast). Raine’s assertion that the characters are underdeveloped isn’t entirely inaccurate, but, as archetypes, they fit the breakneck method and the performances are good enough to fill in the gaps when necessary.
Stateside, Giants and Toys made its DVD debut via Fantoma and that is, as far as I can ascertain, the film’s first English-friendly release. That disc has been out-of-print for quite awhile, but remains affordable in the used market. Arrow has gotten their hands on it via their fruitful relationship with Daiei and were handed a complete HD scan, which they cleaned-up and regraded. The resulting 2.35:1, 1080p transfer more or less matches expectations of their other Daisei and Nikkatsu releases – very good, better than any other version on the market, but not without minor shortcomings. The poppy and eclectic colors are a big plus, because they help illustrate the contrast between bland, neutral hues of office life and vivid, cartooniness of the advertising world. The scan is definitely grainy, which isn’t a problem in itself, but there is a slight horizontal smear to the noise, which is another thing I’ve seen in Arrow’s other out-of-house digital scans. Print damage artifacts aren’t an issue (a bit of wobble here and there) and details are reasonably tight.
Giants and Toys is presented in its original Japanese mono sound and uncompressed, DTS-HD Master Audio. The sound quality matches the standard for other medium/low-budget Japanese movies from the era. The mix is simple and largely dialogue-driven and, as such, becomes more distorted when large groups are speaking over each other. There’s persistent high volume hiss and other distortion when the tracks peak, but no notable source damage issues, and the noise floor is quite low when silence is called for. Tetsuo Sukahara’s score and other non-diegetic music fares well, despite the peaking issues and cramped single-channel mixing.
Commentary by Japanese cinema scholar Dr. Irene González-López – The co-editor of Tanaka Kinuyo: Nation, Stardom and Female Subjectivity (with Michael Smith; Edinburgh University Press, 2018) and current postdoctoral researcher at Kingston School of Art does her best to keep up with the film’s ridiculous pace on this new commentary. As one might expect based on her credentials, González-López approaches the film from an academic angle, offering loads of that valuable context people like me crave while watching dated cultural satires like Giants and Toys. I was particularly interested in learning about the critical/audience reaction to the film upon its original release.
2021 introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns (10:26, HD) – Rayns, whose other work includes writing for BFI, Sight & Sound, and Time Out, and regular commentary track recorder for Criterion and Masters of Cinema, discusses Giants and Toys’ production history and place in Masumura’s filmography.
In the Realm of the Publicists (20:35, HD) – Asian cinema scholar/professor and author of Strategies of Deviance: Studies in Gay Male Representation (Indiana University Press, 1995) Earl Jackson closes things out with a tightly edited, info-packed video essay. The focus here is on the histories of the Japanese corporate drive and celebrity culture during the late ‘50s. He also compares Giants and Toys to other Masumura movies, similarities to Warhol’s art, and films with similar themes.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.