Giants & Toys (Yasuzo Masumura, 1958)

Kyojin to gangu
JP, 95 min

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my first from the prolific masumura
what a world

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Yasuzo Masumura’s dark satire of postwar Japan’s cutthroat business culture stars Hiroshi Kawaguchi (Floating Weeds) as an up-and-coming executive at a caramel manufacturer which is locked in fierce competition with two rival companies. This is the post-Sputnik late ’50s, and young exec comes up with an advertising campaign centered around space-themed toys and giveaways…

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… but the company needs a spokesmodel, a lovely young girl who will be the face at the front of the advertising – and finds her in the form of a poor but honest waif with very bad teeth.

imdb

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Masumura studied film in Italy under powerhouse figures such as Antonioni, Felini, and Visconti. But:

In Japanese film history Masumura is a precursor of what’s generally known as the Japanese new wave, a movement that took root in the early ’60s, around the same time as the French New Wave; it inherited its name from the French movement (though Nagisa Oshima, the figure most associated with the Japanese new wave, has said he always detested the label). Much as Jean Renoir, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Tati (as well as lesser-known figures like Roger Leenhardt and Alexandre Astruc, who functioned as critics as well as filmmakers) came to be seen as precursors of the French New Wave, Masumura was regarded as a major guru by Oshima before he embarked on his own career.

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Indeed, Masumura, director Nakahita Ko, and screenwriter Shirasaka Yoshio — who scripted at least ten of Masumura’s features, including Giants and Toys — were all heralded by Oshima in a 1958 essay called “Is It a Breakthrough? (The Modernists of Japanese Film)”, and Masumura was labeled the “possessor of the sharpest sociological perceptions of the three”.

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In lauding this trio Oshima, whose own first film was still about a year away, was celebrating their taste for youthful irreverence, their conscious methodology, and their call for freedom and innovation. Masumura, for instance, wasn’t applying the principles of Italian neorealism–what one might have expected given his formal training–but doing something closer to the reverse. As Masumura himself put it in a 1958 essay quoted by Oshima, the problem with social realism was that it gave too much emphasis to societal pressures, making the defeat of the individual all but inevitable and promoting an overall sense of resignation.

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“My goal,” Masumura wrote, “is to create an exaggerated depiction featuring only the ideas and passions of living human beings….In Japanese society, which is essentially regimented, freedom and the individual do not exist. The theme of the Japanese film is the emotions of the Japanese people, who have no choice but to live according to the norms of that society. The cinema has had no alternative but to continue to depict the attitudes and inner struggles of the people who are faced with and oppressed by complex social relationships and the defeat of human freedom….[But] after experiencing Europe for two years, I wanted to portray the type of beautifully vital, strong people I came to know there, even if, in Japan, this would be nothing more than an idea.”   ———- source

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