Momotaro’s Sea Eagle: Folk Tale to Propaganda

The classic folktale of Momotaro is modernized into a propaganda film though Momotaro’s Sea Eagle. The folktale tells the moral of good actions and rewards. An old couple’s wish is granted when they find a boy inside a peach whom they adopt as their son. Their son grows up to be a hero who embarks on a journey to fight the demons on a distant island, gaining comrades along the way. With his mission successful, he returns home with enough riches for his parents to live prosperously. Skipping out on the origins of Momotaro and his early life, the animated film starts with Momotaro and his comrades’ expedition to Ogres’ Island and ends with their victory and return.

The enemy's flag resembling an American flag

In the film, Momotaro commands a force of animals—dogs, monkeys, rabbits, and birds. The animals make an aerial attack on the demons who take on a human appearance, representing Japan’s attack on their American enemies at Pearl Harbor. Unlike the tale though, Momotaro does not return home to his parents as a hero with the riches he has gained, because in the film, there are no riches to be gained. The ogres they fight are their American enemies for it is a fight for justice, not riches. Heroism in this film comes from serving one’s nation.

Muscle growth from food

Food is the animals’ source of strength. Once Momotaro commands the animals to get into battle positions, one monkey eats a skewer of millet dumplings and his muscle immediately grows. Once returned from their mission, the animals celebrate the victory by eating riceballs. Though different from the folktale in that Momotaro give millet dumplings to his followers after they pledge their allegiance to them, food in both the folktale and the film brings Momotaro and his comrades together by reminding them of what they have in common. Millet dumplings are simple, but they are a delicacy simply because of their cultural value. The animals gain strength from their pride in their simply-made food which is as simple as their ideal of defending their nation from foreign enemies. Their joy of victory comes from their sense of nationalism and they celebrate with cultural food to remind themselves of their nationality and unity.

Pride and joy in cultural food and victory

Like the folktale, good actions does get rewarded. However, in the film, the good action is defending one’s nation while the reward is a victory celebration with food rather than taking the riches of their enemies like in the folktale. Momotaro of the folktale did his duties to his parents as the animals in the film did to Momotaro as the Japanese should to their nation. Through this, the folktale of Momotaro is transformed into wartime propaganda.


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