Director: Yazuzo Masumura
Screenplay: Yoshio Shirasaka
Starring: Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hitomi Nozoe, Osamu Abe
Running Time: 95 minutes
BBFC Certificate: 12
Japanese movie from 1958 released by Arrow? Sure, count me in, I said. The published cover art did little to dissuage this feeling. After the logo ident rang around my room, the menu screen presented a musical number which exploded on screen. Yet none of this prepared me for what was to come. From acclaimed Japanese filmmaker Yasuzo Masumura comes what I can best described as a 1950s Japanese version of Mad Men, set in the bustling world of marketing candy to the masses. The world of Giants and Toys draws strong parallels to Don Draper and company.
The film centres on the emerging promotion of caramel from the company World, as they seek to obliterate their rivals of Apollo and Giant. Like the aforementioned modern counterpart, the individuals involved contrast generational attitudes to business and morality. Central to this is Goda (played by Hideo Takamatsu), an ambitious, up and coming executive, full of ideas on how to progress. He has a young protégé Nishi, (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) who hangs on every word and action.
Industrial espionage plays a part as the executives from each company mix and openly steal ideas from each other. A space theme is settled on by World but in order to pull it off, a fresh face is needed to front the promotion. While out, Goda spots a young woman with bad teeth but brimming with sweetness and youth. They offer her an alternate path from working for a taxi company, which Kyoko (Hitomi Nozoe) jumps at eagerly.
A film that appears to only have surface level plot and ideas suddenly becomes an intricate examination of themes that were nearly half a century ahead of its time. The idea of creating celebrity and using that celebrity for your own means features heavily. This coupled with the overwhelming lustre of corporation, asks questions of how power corrupts not only individuals but wider society in general.
There are relationship subplots at every turn. Nishi has friends who are junior executives in the rival firms, while Goda is the son in law of the current marketing head. The attraction of Kyoko to Nishi is even exploited if it means advantaged can be gained. It is a seedy world and the audience is left to ponder the outcome for all involved, the cost that must be paid.
It is hard not to see the direct influence over Mad Men, from the suave style of Goda to the innocence of those caught in the marketing maelstrom. The name of the show even appears in the script (or the newly commissioned subtitles on this release at least)!
The print of the film contains a strong amount of film grain but looks wonderful as the colour pops off the screen. There is excellent clarity and depth throughout.
- Brand new audio commentary by Japanese cinema scholar Irene González-López
This is an academic commentary that examines the themes of the film in the context of the director’s wider filmography. It links to the previous Arrow release of Black Test Car, which explores similar themes. It is analytical and precisely what such a deep and intricate plot asks for. It is a far cry from the musical and comedic tones that were presented at the outset. My appreciation of the both the screenplay and direction was improved immeasurably as she links to other directors and creators (such as Kazan, Oshima and Godard). The research, knowledge and delivery is often overwhelming but that makes the It is often said that modern boutique blu-ray releases are a film school and I can think of fewer better examples of this than the commentary supplied here. I hope to see and hear more from this voice going forward.
- Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
Any input from Tony Rayns is to be applauded. This introduction speaks to the genesis of cast and crew and how they came to work together. He also looks at how the film is set against the cultural identity and motivations at the time in Japan, contrasting the world and allure of television, the upcoming bravado of the young executives and how the old ways are left behind. He also examines and ponders whether Masumura had any contemporaries in world cinema at the time.
- In the Realm of the Publicists, a brand-new visual essay by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
Another highlight of an extra, that takes many of the points talked about in the commentary but with the added bonus of curating the images to suit the topic. Again, this looks at Black Test Car as an extension of the ideas from Giants and Toys. There is a breakdown of how sequencing and chronology plays into one of the scenes. This is a perfect example of the power of the video essay in showing the genius of great filmmakers.
A strong release from Arrow whose depth surprised me as each minute passed. The extras supplied alongside the release give me strong hope that the Arrow will continue to push the ethos of Arrow Academy going forward, even in films that at surface level, seem like a poor fit. The parallels in modern society abound. An examination of the problems with male dominated business, the attempted exploitation of innocence and how the pursuit of true capitalism leaves a trail of devastation.
If you were a fan of the previous release of Black Test Car, you will find a more fleshed out examination of the same ideas. Recommended.