Satire of the Timeless Variety

Picking a singular moment when Yasuzo Masamura’s Giants and Toys perfectly satirizes post-war Japanese economics isn’t possible; the movie features dozens worthy of that stamp.

There’s the opening shot, as drone-like workers, indistinguishable from one another, walk in unison to their offices, all groomed to satisfy their corporate bosses. Then another when a rival company’s factory catches fire, and in the board room of the competition, they celebrate the chance to boost sales. Or, maybe when the TV producer is angered that someone had the audacity to give their new star water, disrupting the ad shoot.

Giants and Toys finds the absurdist humor, but also a depressing truth

Giants and Toys is relentless, an equivalent smash-and-grab against what western society left behind after WWII, primarily the work culture that blended with imperialist ideals. Everything is done for the company. To refuse is akin to rejecting a battlefield order from a commanding officer. Loyalty above all, even as stress slowly kills some employees.

Masamura’s film is closed off from anything other than work. Sex and relationships benefit profits. Nights out happen to appease clients and close deals. No one in this story is real, and that’s the smartest thematic idea. In finding a poor, average girl with rotting teeth to promote their products, World Confectioneries creates an image of what they are – ruthless, greedy, obsessive, and totally unreal. They create a personality, script her interviews, and push her to work ceaseless hours.

If there’s an American contemporary to Giants and Toys, it’s Howard Hawks. More modern, Aaron Sorkin. Giants and Toys is that tiring in its frantic pace, cramped offices forcing people to talk over one another, and grow louder the lower sales fall.

The inherent comedy lies in how jovial this should be. This story concerns three candy companies, pure sugary happiness, upended by competitiveness that sees friends turning on one another and bosses unwilling to grant time off to deal with ulcers.

In the center is a young upstart Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi), idealist in his views, then corrupted by the final frames into donning a dopey space suit and being told to smile for the people. Giants and Toys finds the absurdist humor, but also a depressing truth that came to define Japan’s recovery period. The salaryman comedy became a genre unto itself, and wacky as those films were, Giants and Toys take the time to see what these profitable pursuits did to an entire culture.

Video

From a clean print, Arrow brings this film Stateisde in a pleasing presentation. Notable boosts to contrast give Giants and Toys new life. Black levels run heavy, too aggressive in spots, smothering the shadows. That gives Giants and Toys a dour, depressive look, which isn’t inherently wrong given the movie’s demeanor.

Encoding fights numerous battles, winning most. Thick grain maintains a constant presence, falling into noise in darker areas where shadows don’t crush. Notably, during a cafe scene near the 25-minute mark. Chroma artifacts seep into the image, betraying the film aesthetic.

Boosted color brings a defining vibrancy to the primaries, drawing out the late ’50s teal plastics and eccentrically decorated toys. Things like flesh tones don’t suffer at their expense. It’s charmingly dense saturation, if not natural then still appealing.

Audio

Pedestrian DTS-HD mono (in Japanese only) manages the frantic dialog exchanges and holds the creaky treble together. The music falters in its clarity, age pulling the fidelity down. It’s clear at least, no static or popping as the track plays. Sufficient and not much else.

Extras

First, PhD researcher Irene Gonzalez-Lopez brings a commentary track, and Tony Rayns intros the film in a 10-minute piece. Taiwanese film professor Earl Jackson pops up to deliver a video essay that runs 20-minutes. Afterward, a trailer and stills gallery.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Giants and Toys
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

A relentless dark satire about Japans post-war recovery, Giants and Toys exposes the influence of western business into the society.

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