A country largely closed to outsiders for most of its history, its society built upon codes of behaviour and deference, who can say what complex circumstances and fears prompted the island nation of Japan to declare war on one of the most powerful nations on the planet, but surely they could have had no inkling of how decisively that conflict would end, the bright dawning of the nuclear age tipping the balance as comprehensively as would giants against children with toys.
Originally released in 1958, director Yasuzo Masumura’s Giants and Toys (巨人と玩具, Kyojin to gangu) only obliquely references the war yet the patterns are there in the shadows cast by the rivalry between World Confectionary and their two principal rivals, Giant and Apollo, each seeking an edge which will push their sales and profit margins higher, any advantage taken and no kindness shown.
A young marketing executive at World, Yousuke Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) needs inspiration yet can’t even spark his broken cigarette lighter, discussing promotions and prizes with his friends Masami Kurahashi and Tadao Yokoyama (Michiko Ono and Kôichi Fujiyama) when he sees her, the girl in the tea shop with vivacious eyes and rotten teeth, Kyôko Shima (Hitomi Nozoe), deciding he will make her the star of a campaign based around the space race.
Presented on Blu-ray by Arrow, Giants and Toys is based on the story by Takeshi Kaikō, a commentary on the shifting values of his country, abandoning its principles as it emulates the cultural icons of the west even as they prove toxic, using the media to manipulate and indoctrinate the masses but Nishi finding that his protégé Kyôko cannot be controlled, shallow, demanding and only using her employer as a springboard for her own career as a showgirl.
The opening titles presenting Kyôko as a poster girl whose image is reproduced before blowing away in the wind, she is contrasted with the procession of men who work in the factory, individuals marked by uniformity, the “flood of humanity” consuming chocolate and caramel; Giants and Toys may be shaped as a comedy but is a bleak appraisal of capitalism and corporations who expect loyalty to the grave by Masumura who only a few years later would make the equally cynical Black Test Car.
The new edition of Giants and Toys featuring an audio commentary by Japanese cinema scholar Irene González-López, there is also a newly filmed introduction by Tony Rayns who observes how modern the ideas of the sixty years old film are, while in his video essay Earl Jackson discusses the changes from Kaikō’s story and the constraints the corporate imperative to succeed places on the individual’s will to survive.