Food in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle: A Celebration of Japanese Victory Against Western Culture

In Japanese folktale, Momotaro, a boy born from a peach, is depicted as a young brave boy who has a strong sense of justice. Einosuke Omura in 1942 produced a propaganda movie, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, based on a reconstruction of this folktale. It aims to influence people to celebrate the victory of December 1941 attack on Pear Harbour as a symbol of “evil” western conquest. Food plays a role in this film, introducing a “good” culture side of Japan by Momotaro and his animal companions figure, and “bad” culture side of western by horned Bluto from the American cartoon, Popeye.

In this first scene below, a bottle of liquor drunk by Bluto symbolizes the dehumanizing culture. The drinking practice has been well known where the western people would usually drink whenever they are under heavy tension, hoping that it will ease their mind and give them some “boost.” Bluto does exactly the same during the animals bombing raid. Yet, instead of gaining his “boost” of courage, he remains a coward. His mentality degrades because of its association with the culture, showing that his tough body is only for a display of strength. Just before this scene, Bluto is also seen having stored a lot of liquor under his clothes, implying selfishness and a lack of responsibility of his job as the ship captain. These two aspects show how Bluto, representing the Western culture, tries to run from reality by drinking instead of face it upfront and lead his crews to fight back. The blurry ship image behind him indicates the eminent destruction of the navy because of his act. Similarly, the original version describes how the ogres eat the civilians, a truly savage and demonic act. Eventually, the demons are also defeated and killed.

Bluto enjoys his liquor in the midst of battle

In this second scene below, the Onigiri (Japanese rice ball), consumed by a monkey having returned from the war, depicts nationalism and friendship. The Japanese food has existed since long time ago, and sometimes is illustrated by historical diary that many Samurais brought it for quick lunch during the war. This scene portrays how the long-time tradition remains intact within Japanese culture, representing a sense of nationalism towards the country. The joyful expression when the monkey consumes it and eats every single bits and pieces of the rice left on his mouth in the later scene represents a strong appreciation of the traditional food. Similarly, the sun bandana on his head also represents strong nationalism. The scene also depicts a strong bond when the monkey is eating together with the rabbits watching him. The gloomy grey cloud background couldn’t even break the mood of the cheerful sound of the animal crowd celebrating their victory. Consequently, the scene displays how these factors unite Momotaro and the animals, and become the decisive factor to win against the easily “divided” western culture during the attack. Similarly, the original version also illustrates how the act of sharing the delicacy of Momotaro’s millet dumplings to his fellow animal companions symbolizes unity and friendship to win the war against the demons.

The victory celebration with rice balls and friends

Thus, Omura is able to illustrate the victory of the united Japanese culture against the divided Western culture through food, well-packaging the movie as a propaganda genre film.


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