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Fantoma Films presents
Giants & Toys (1958)

"The public are worse than babies. Worse than dogs. They work like slaves, and get drunk at night. TV, radio, movies, games, they have no time to think. That's where we come in."
- Goda (Yunosoke Ito)

Review By: Jon Danziger  
Published: March 06, 2002

Stars: Hiroshi Kawagushi, Hitomi Nozoe
Other Stars: Kinzo Shin, Yunosoke Ito, Hideo Takamatsu
Director: Yasuzo Masumura

Manufacturer: American Zoetrope DVD Lab
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:34m:55s
Release Date: February 12, 2002
UPC: 014381145625
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B+ BBB- C-

DVD Review

Welcome to the cutthroat world of the Japanese caramel business. Sales are lagging—horrors—and armies of salary-men are on the case. Just what can they do to separate children from their money, and keep the dentists of Japan in clover? The three corporate combatants—Apollo Caramels, World Caramels and Giant Caramels—are in fierce competition, basically to see who can put the gaudiest, most popular prize at the bottom of their respective boxes of Cracker Jacks, so to speak. Imagine the search for the golden tickets in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory crossed with the ferocious selling in something like Glengarry Glen Ross, and you've got an idea of what's going on in Giants & Toys. Of course there's no thought given to making the candy taste any better; they're locked into the idea of shrieking about their bubble gum in order to sell more baseball cards. ("Silver Caramels not only taste good, they're romantic!") Apollo will give away live animals; World promises a cradle-to-wedding lottery for one lucky customer. (Given that the English expression is "cradle to grave," I wonder about the equation here of marriage with death.) Giant Caramels settles on space suits as their prize of choice, but before you can sell a gimmick, you need a spokesmodel. Hence Goda (Yunosoke Ito) and his protégé, Nishi (Kinzo Shin) pick a young woman literally right off the street—Kyoko (Hitomi Nozoe), a taxi dispatcher whose teeth have been rotted out by too much candy—and set about the business of making her a star, so that she can shill for Giant. It's the unfolding of Goda's scheme that comprises the principal storyline of Giants & Toys, and there are aspects of the satire that are just slightly cartoony versions of what you might read about in this morning's Wall Street Journal. The DVD case compares the director of this film, Yasuzo Masumura, to Billy Wilder, and the film of Wilder's that Giants & Toys most resembles is The Apartment: Nishi is a bureaucrat on the way up, and his business ambitions and personal life collide in unpleasant ways. (His best college pal works for World Caramels, and is ready to turn state's on his old friend in a heartbeat. Hey, that's business.) Still, the central joke of the movie—the insane salesmanship in a children's business—put me more in mind of Big, with its humorless adults attempting to market toys to children. But there isn't a Tom Hanks figure on hand to lend this some whimsy; in truth, Giants & Toys is a curious mélange of styles. Plucking Kyoko from obscurity and turning her into a media Frankenstein is reminiscent of Meet John Doe or A Face in the Crowd (and why isn't that out yet on DVD?); and there are enough boardroom politics here to put you in mind of an earnest 1950s corporate melodrama like Executive Suite. (Goda married the boss's daughter, and wants to wrest control of the company away from his father-in-law; they have it out in a particularly harrowing board meeting.) There's also a dollop of romance and a good bit of media satire; it's a whole lot packed into ninety-eight minutes, and sometimes feels as if the filmmakers themselves are unsure about the style of the piece. It veers from Strangelovean satire to paternal struggles more at home in an Arthur Miller play; maybe these shifting gears seem less abrupt to Japanese audiences, though I tend to doubt it. Of course it's hard to make specific judgments about dialogue, as I don't speak a word of Japanese, but I wonder about the accurate rendering in the English subtitles. At one point a character remarks that "Everyone gets their fifteen minutes," but Andy Warhol was hardly a blip on the map in 1958, when this movie was made; I'd bet a pack of Silver Caramels that that's an anachronism. On the other hand, it's refreshing to see Fifties filmmaking unencumbered by the Hays code—a fashion photographer doesn't flinch when he tells his model to stop sleeping around, it's making her shoot poorly. And the sociological look at Japanese women circa 1958 is an unintentionally fascinating one; some women are good corporate wives, serving tea silently in their kimono, while others throw back drinks, smoke like chimneys, and compete with the boys in every respect. Giants & Toys also features the strangest, most inappropriate musical number you'll see this side of The Naked Kiss, ratifying the fact that Kyoko is a no-talent, that it's all media puffery. By the end of the story she's become a monster, the worst sort of bitchy diva, and the boys at Giant have only themselves to blame for failing to read the fine print.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: This widescreen transfer looks very good, with strong, consistent colors and black levels. Perhaps it's the source print, but what doesn't look as good is a series of montages in which the picture quality dips tremendously. Subtitles appear below the image, so as not to obscure any of the frame.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
4.0
Japaneseno


Audio Transfer Review: Audio levels are generally well balanced, though on too many occasions the score becomes unbearably loud; the music playing under the menus is cranked up unreasonably high, too, so you may be reaching for the volume control when it starts up.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. photo gallery—twelve stills
Extras Review: All the extras are pegged to Masumura; his is the only biography and filmography. The text on the three biography screens is terribly small and in an unfortunate font, which is blue and in italics; it makes it inordinately difficult to read, even on a good-sized television. His filmography is breathtaking, though: he directed fifty-six films in all, fifty of them between 1957 and 1973. From 1958 to 1960, he directed four films each year. The trailer promotes the studio, Daiei, as much as it does the movie; also, I was a little surprised to see that on this Region 1 disc, you can turn off the English subtitles. (Isn't this one of the ways Criterion stepped in it with Seven Samurai?)

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

Satire isn't always what closes on Saturday night, and more than forty years after the fact, much of Giants & Toys remains pungent. Its execution may not measure up to its ambition, but it's a sharp, knowing movie that, despite the occasional peculiar story turn, speaks to our moment (Enron, anyone?), and looks very nice on this DVD.

 


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