Momotaro is widely considered to be a hero featured in traditional Japanese folklore. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the director Mitsuyo Seo has managed to fuse this prominent figure into a World War II setting, while retaining the principles of the original story – Momotaro conquering the demons with his animal troops. So, how did he accomplish the task of implementing such a serious situation into an animation that Japanese children may enjoy watching, while being a propaganda film?
One of the key moments in the film is when the animals ate millet dumplings given by Momotaro. Although this scene lasts no longer than 5 seconds, it plays a significant role in such propaganda. Being a traditional Japanese sweet, it represents its country of origin and distinction from western culture. As the film is directed towards younger audiences, embedding the idea that “Japanese sweets are good” also helps the promotion of nationalism to “the future of Japan”. After consuming the millet dumplings, the animals grew stronger and are capable of fighting off the “demons”. Unsurprisingly, the younger generation may easily relate themselves to these scenes because millet dumplings are ubiquitous in Japan, thus making the animation more approachable to the targeted young audience.
Furthermore, the Rising Sun Flag (military flag for Japan) is shown very clearly in these sequences, which highlights the fact that Japanese soldiers are very humble and down to earth — they are depicted as friends instead of heroes to the children in Japan. In fact, children from the broader western part of the world may also recognize this scene as an analogy to Popeye’s spinach-invigoration scene. In spite of different background settings, the concept of “strengthening oneself through consuming nutritious food” shares between the two animations. Here comes the question, is this kind of resemblance merely a coincidence?
Not long after the scene where those millet dumplings are eaten, one of the surprise-bombing scenes in the animation clearly shows how the director would like to portray the “demon”. This Bluto (in Popeye) look-alike depicts the stereotypical American who is obese, alcoholic and simple-minded. In the midst of a surprise torpedo attack, he stayed exceptionally “calm”. He pulled out a bottle of alcohol and drank it, even though his ship is being torn apart and sinking. To a Japanese kid at that period, this may be his or her first impression of what Americans look like. Certainly, this movie has been significant in shaping the younger generations’ view to the United States, but how? To them, alcohol or Sake is an adult-only drink that tastes badly and makes you feel dizzy. Therefore alcohol, when compared to millet dumplings, is something more distant to Japanese children. At the same time, the demons are bulkier and less adorable when compared to the monkeys, birds and Momotaro that are cute and charming. This subtle comparison of what different characters consume in the movie shows that the director has used food as a tool to illustrate the different characters between the two nations’ navies.
Moreover, this food selection might also suggest why the director has chosen to feature the antagonist Bluto but not the more popular Popeye for his portrayal of Americans. For instance, if Popeye were to be the captain of the “demons”, he would definitely gorge his can of spinach and fight back positively, which should not happen in a propaganda film. Popeye the hero has been replaced by Momotaro, who is a charismatic leader and smart enough to sit back and relax, while his fellow troops are bashing the demons.
A cute monkey and a pack of millet dumplings; a huge belly and a bottle of alcohol. Mitsuyo Seo’s spectacular utilization of millet dumplings and alcohol as tools to bring attention to the different characteristics is a wise move. Food and drinks in this animation reflects not only the character of the monkey and Bluto, but also their countries’ image through the lens of the director. As a propaganda film made towards youngsters, it certainly has its comical elements and implications that can be easily understood and be implanted into their minds.