Food functions in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle by Pearl Punperk

Japan has been known among animation lovers of its legend of animation. Japanese anime has unique characteristics which distinguish them from American animation movies. In the past, anime were dominated by American cartoons such as Popeye and Betty Boop, but that did not discourage the Japanese animators. Instead they amusingly turned those American cartoon heroes into villains in their works. Their idea created identity that notably defines Japanese anime of the era. Momotaro’s Sea Eagle by Mitsuyo Seo was created during World War II as propaganda. The film evolves with many functions of food: symbolic object, gift, and providing energy.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is a propaganda film from the Pearl Harbor attack that based on a Japanese folklore called Momotaro. Since the film was sponsored by the Ministry of the Navy, Momotaro of this version serves as a naval commander. After a long and tough training, the commander sends his troops which consist of dogs, monkeys, and pheasants, the same characters that appears in the folklore, to Demon Island in order to defeat the demons.

According to the original Momotaro, the Old Man and the Old Woman, who are the parents of Momotaro, prepare millet dumplings for their son to eat on his way to conquer the demon. Because the elderly couple is worried about their son going away from home for the first time to pursue his risky quest, they prepare such food for him. In this case, the millet dumplings symbolize the love and caring of parents. In addition, during the journey, Momotaro also gives half of a millet dumpling to each animal as a thank you gift for joining him to Demon Island.

In the anime version, before the troops leaving for Demon Island, they are supposed to take millet dumplings with them. One of the planes almost takes off without taking some with them, so a monkey, with worried expression on his face, brings them to the plane. They treat the millet dumplings as a precious gift that they ought not to be forgotten.

When the troops reach the demon’s island and are ready to attack, the commander orders his troops: “Torpedo squadron, bomber squadron, fighter squadron take battle positions.” Before the animals take the actions, they eat the millet dumplings to encourage themselves. In this scene, it seems like they are having a small feast before proceeding with the order. After the monkey from the plane of torpedo bomber no. 3 eats a stick of millet dumplings, he shows his bicep as if he never feels as mighty and powerful as this before. This can be interpreted that the millet dumplings give animals energy and strengths to fight. The dog, which also flies on the same plane as the monkey, eats his millet dumplings and is willing to go. They are now ready to attack the demons.

And since Japan has 御守(omamori) or amulets as one of the cultural items in which they provide protection for the bearer, I would like to think that the millet dumplings also serve as an amulet. The whole culture of Omamori was created by Shinto religion which dedicated this objects to its deities. Typical omamori usually have a cloth covering which encloses papers or pieces of wood with prayers written on them, according to Wikipedia. People who wish for good luck or protection can purchase omamori at Shinto shrines. Even though the millet dumplings are not treated as omamori in the film because instead of keeping them to oneself, they are consumed, but it makes sense to me because they give the power and strength to the animals to be able to defeat the demons. And after the war, every animal comes back to the ship safely.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagle successfully gets the audience’s sympathy by using the well-known national character as a protagonist to defeat the enemy. In addition of being a propaganda film, it also regained the popularity of Japanese Animation and get even on the dominant American cartoons by twisting the hero roles. The film also manages to use the functions of the food the extents in such a short duration of time.


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