Giants and Toys
Three candy companies dominate late-50's Japan: World, Giant, & Apollo. Yasuzo Masumura's Giants & Toys follows the efforts of the executives at World Candy to sell the most caramels to Japanese schoolchildren.
An up-and-coming executive comes up with an advertising campaign centered around space-themed toys and giveaways (this being the post-Sputnik late 1950's, after all, when the space race and contests were the hot topics for kids). But the company needs a spokesmodel, a lovely young girl who will be the face at the front of the advertising - and finds her in the form of a poor but honest waif with very bad teeth.
The bulk of the film follows World's efforts to turn the young girl (played by Hitomi Nozoe, who had earlier starred in Masumura's Kisses) into a media pop star. She is photographed by a scruffy, womanizing, rough-as-a-cob artist known for being able to bring out his models' vulnerabilities, and immediately published in a slick photo magazine; her poster adorns walls all over the city; she goes on television, and dances in World's advertisements wearing a space suit (providing the film with its central image); leaflets are dropped from helicopters bearing her image; she hands out caramels at public functions; etc. Soon young fans are camping out at her dressing room door, hoping for an autograph or to give her a bouquet.
Meanwhile, the executives at World are struggling, and the strain is beginning to show on everyone, especially advertising chief Goda (Hideo Takamatsu); like his father-in-law, who he's on the verge of succeeding, he's developing ulcers from over-work.. Sales keep dropping, however, despite the company's best efforts; even when a rival's factory burns, World can't seem to pull up the sales. Meanwhile, when the company men turn again to their young media star for assistance, they've find the awkward tadpole (like the ones she raised in more innocent times) has sprouted legs and hopped away. The girl from the ghetto has outsmarted the big-shot executives.
Giants & Toys is a social satire, of course, criticizing the modern business world for turning otherwise ordinary men into ruthless adversaries - even old schoolchums and family members. At one point Goda's father-in-law pleads for compassion for their rivals who have lost their factory; he points to the honorable bushido code of the samurai, and tries to relate a parable along those lines - but before he can even finish, Goda - who will soon have his job - counters that the company must remain diligent and destroy their rivals. That his efforts come to nothing simply underscores the director's point.
Also coming under fire is the habit of modern advertising to take an attractive young person and turn her (or occasionally a him) into a pop star, despite her having little or no discernible talent. The advertising budget makes the star; she, or he, can be anybody. Even a poor girl with bad teeth can become a spokesmodel and make half a million yen a year. Though this film dates from 1958, its message is still very relevant. With only minor cosmetic changes, one could easily translate it into today's mega-corporate society.
In the end, the characters of this fun, wonderful film either persevere and succeed, or they drop out. Kyoko reinvents herself into a beautiful, successful pop star, appearing in a tiki-lounge jazz act with a new set of teeth, presumably the best money could buy. Young Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), Goda's assistant, despite his recognition of the destructive path before him, ultimately chooses to remain a company salaryman. Goda will stay with World until he is forced to quit due to health reasons.
Giants and Toys - 1958
Direction: Yasuzo Masumura
Screenplay: Yoshio Shirasaka (based on the novel by Ken Kaiko)
Featuring: Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hitomi Nozoe, Yunosuke Ito, Michiko Ono