Color, 1958, 95 mins. 4 secs.
Directed by Yasuzô Masumura
Starring Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Hitomi Nozoe, Kinzo Shin, Yunosuke Ito, Hideo Takamatsu
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK RA/RB HD), Fantoma (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)
"I just see them all as caramels," remarks one executive about the crowds swarming at the bottom of his skyscraper during an early scene in the corporate satire Giants and Toys, the third film by the delirious Yasuzo Masumura and a giddy dry run for the fever pitch tone of his more mature works during the 1960s. Though the subject of competitive advertising during the international business boom of the '50s might not sound like prime material for cinematic entertainment, Masumura somehow keeps all of the story's elements bouncing in the air thanks to some kind of fiendish juggling act, resulting in a striking entertainment impossible to fully absorb in one viewing.
Distraught by the growing dominance of American candy makers in the international marketplace, three Japanese companies have stepped up their cutthroat promotional practices. At the offices of World Caramels, Nishi (Hiroshi Kawaguchi) keeps an eye on his competitors - Giant and Apollo - thanks to close friends planted inside the companies (including his girlfriend). However, the balance of World Caramels is upset by their newest spokesperson, Kyoko (Nozoe), a dentally-challenged ingénue who develops a crush on Nishi-- who in turn is less captivated by her charms than his boss, Goda (Takamatsu). Armed with plastic ray guns and a plastic astronaut helmet, Kyoko becomes a pop culture hit and proves to be more capable then Nishi could have imagined, as his entire world goes spinning out of control.
Like most Japanese filmmakers, Masumura displays an astonishing command of the scope frame quite unlike Western directors. The punchy opening credits, the head-spinning montages, and the hilarious ad campaigns provide plenty of opportunities for snappy camera work and editing, but never at the expense of the absurdist but strangely familiar characters. Though lensed in 1958, this already feels like a prime '60s Japanese title, perfectly in line with the aesthetic excess of that decade.
Back in 2002, Fantoma brought Masumura's cockeyed vision to a wider audience on DVD as part of its turn of the director's films including Black Test Car, Manji, and Blind Beast. The anamorphic widescreen framing looked great at the time, and the punchy colors fare quite well. The removable English subtitles appear to be accurate, while the mono audio sounds fine. The bouncy theatrical trailer is included along with a Masumura biography and filmography. In 2021, Arrow Video brought the film to Blu-ray with a scan that improves on the already good source with better white and black balance (which was somewhat greenish on the DVD) and finer detail; there's marginally less image info on the left and right sides, but it doesn't seem to affect the compositions much one way or the other. The DTS-HD MA Japanese mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also in good shape. In a new audio commentary by Irene González-López, the film scholar takes an analytical look at the film focusing on its visual style, the cultural symbolism of its recurring images, the way it acclimates viewers to its comparatively extreme aesthetic approach, and the sly ways it approaches its male versus female characters. A lengthy video intro by Tony Rayns (10m26s) covers the history behind the film including the writing personnel involving in crafting the story, the prescient nature of the narrative that foreshadows reality TV and corporate-crazed culture, and the state of advertising at the time before TV became the dominant market by far. Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson weighs in with the visual essay "In the Realm of the Publicists" (20m35s) continues that thread exploring the destructive aspects of corporate fealty, some key changes from Takeshi Kaikô's source novel, the ties to other Japanese films of the era tied to advertising and office culture that impacts the lives of individuals, and connections to other Masumura works. Also included are the subtitled Japanese trailer and a gallery of posters and stills, while the first pressing comes with an insert booklet featuring liner notes b y Michael Raine.
ARROW VIDEO (Blu-ray)
Updated review on May 3, 2021