Giants and Toys

November 17, 2009

Yesterday I had the pleasure to watch the 1958 film Giants and Toys (Kyojin to gangu) directed by Yasuzo Masumura.  Netflix had recommended this film to me, and I must say that yet again Netflix knows me better than I know myself.  I loved this film.  The look of it was amazing and the plot I found to be very significant in our readings of Harris and Adorno.

The film’s main character Nishi is a young employee of the World Caramel Company in the advertising and marketing sector.  World Caramels are in direct competition with two other caramel companies and it is the time of their advertising launches.  This is the heyday of product giveaways and promotions to sell a product and Nishi is learning to navigate the harsh environment.  Nishi interacts with members of his rival companies in a bar and it is through them that he learns of the realities of business.  World Caramels creates a superstar in Kyoko, a young girl with horrible teeth that Nishi sees on the street.  Kyoko and her dreadful teeth become the face of World Caramels and the promotion is settled on a giveaway of spacesuits and space toys.  Traditionally, Nishi would become the powerful in this film and Kyoko would become the used and thrown away as another postergirl was found for the product, someone fresher and more viable.  But that is not the case with this film.

I was thinking about Adorno and Harris’ ideas while watching this film.  I was thinking about the culture of advertising and Adorno’s culture industry.  Nishi is not aware of what he is getting himself into and neither are we as the viewers.  The industry here is pervasive and wicked and both Nishi and Kyoko are its instruments.

The look of this film is so wonderful.  I love the seas of businessmen in suits and the photos of Kyoko selling her caramels.  The transformation of Kyoko is remarkable as a character and also aesthetically beautiful.  She becomes something much more than caramels.  Although I love the look of Kyoko as she first appears in the film with her high ponytail, bangs and tin can of tadpoles, she is barely recognizable in her final performance scene at the end.  All of the tomboy charm and wild energy is replaced with calm and glamor.  She has truly embodied the essence of the postergirl, the it girl, the star.  The final advertising clip that Kyoko shoots for World is so strange and surreal.  She in her spacesuit surrounded by mayflower queens is a strange sight.

No matter how much Nishi and Kyoko are different from the advertising industry and the culture industry, they get sucked into it and it changes them.  As much as they believe they have control, they are controlled.

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