Directed by Yasuzô Masumura and written by Yoshio Shirasaka, in the middle of a fierce commercial competition between three caramel companies, an executive builds up a ditsy teenage girl as a mascot while simultaneously trying to uncover the rival companies’ plans. Starring: Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hitomi Nozoe, Yûnosuke Itô, Michiko Ono and Hideo Takamatsu.
Giants and Toys has a feel as though it could have been a strong influence on the creation of Mad Men, it’s an office based comedy drama that’s fast paced and energetic. There’s romance, conflict, competition, jealousy and a lot of games being played on many different levels, all topped with an unhealthy commitment to work. It has that classic air of businessmen living off of a diet of no sleep, pills and cigarettes. There’s a very perky, high energy right from the start and it sees the film almost through until the end, until it takes a surprisingly sad turn. One of the great things about it, and that arguably an American equivalent may not have chosen, is that it doesn’t lose its realism, in its final moments you see both the agonising, soul-crushing elements, as well as the silver lining. It’s constantly on the move, it never slows down, going back and forth between the companies but with the added focus on Nishi (Kawaguchi) and Kyôko (Nozoe). You do have to, as with many film of its era, ignore a significant amount of sexism but luckily it’s not too pervasive.
Another aspect that lives very much in line with the period is the performances and general emotional levels of its characters, they’re all highly emotional, temperamental and prone to a very significant amount of shouting. In that sense they all come with ups and downs, Nozoe’s overly eager young woman can fall on the irritating side early on which does feel intentional so it’s unavoidable but she becomes more interesting as time goes on. Kawaguchi’s prideful, loyal yet naïve businessman is solid throughout and especially hits some great notes in the film’s latter stages but he does tend to be pretty melodramatic and is prone to sudden fits of anger and yelling. Ono is a fascinating outlier, a young woman who’s confident, witty, clever, flirtatious and headstrong, it’s a shame she isn’t more prominently featured. Takamatsu is another interesting addition, watching his character slowly break down into an unrecognisable place grounds the film.
Looking at this film it’s likely that your first instinct wouldn’t be to say that it’s from the 1950s despite being released originally in 1958, it’s incredibly stylish and feels ahead of its time. It’s bursting with colour which leans into that fantastic pace it sets, and it’s rich but in a youthful and driven way. The atmosphere it sets is slightly intoxicating in its relentlessness, you can’t help but to be dragged into this never-ending competition of candy sales and marketing strategies. The general costuming and set work throughout is fairly business like but every so often it throws in something more exciting, keeping things pushing that higher energy. The only exception is a later scene which involves a tribal themed theatrical performance that goes on a little too long and feels particularly odd.
Giants and Toys is an underrated 50s gem that should be on any film fans’ watch list. It’s a little bit chaotic, full of energy and emotions, stylish and fun but with a realistic edge. The synopsis itself does not sound that interesting but it doesn’t give the full picture of what this film has to offer, it’s more about the vivid colour, fast pace and competitive atmosphere that it builds. It’s one to watch if you’re a fan of classic cinema, Japanese cinema or Mad Men.