Momotaro’s Sea Eagle: How the Chrysanthemum and the Sword Build Up Japanese Nationality

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is an animated Japanese propaganda film produced in 1942, recorded as being produced with the cooperation of the Japanese Naval Ministry and endorsed by Japanese Imperial Navy, featuring the “Peach Boy” character of old Japanese folklore. This film is aimed at children, telling the story of a naval unit consisting of the human Momotarō and several animal species fighting together for a common goal to destroy the Demon Island. In a dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this force attacks the demons at the island of Onigashima (representing the Americans and British demonized in Japanese propaganda), and the film also utilizes actual footage of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The sword is a best representative of the warlike Japanese culture, just like the Bushido philosophy rooted in the nationality long before. In the peaceful time, it is more observed indirectly by worshiping the power, aggressively approaching to it and feeling disdain for the weak. In the war time, it is more directly shown their willingness and ability to start an attack, as what is promoted by Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.

First, the main captain “Momotaro”, known as Peach Boy, whose braveness and determination to defeat the ogres won him the title of national moral hero, conveys the most important message of the movie: in order to protect the nation, the armed attack to defeat enemies is the only effective solution. Secondly, as long as it could achieve the goal to attack enemies, whatever strategies adopted should be honored. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the director uses the actual footage of the Pearl Harbor attack to highlight the battle. Thirdly, although compared to the old folktale of Momotaro, the success of Momotaro’s Sea Eagles relies on the modernized fleet and structured teamwork instead of just individual animal or person, the individual Bushido spirit and heroic behavior still play a very important role during the battle. In the movie, when there is a torpedo going to the wrong direction after its release, the monkey soldier is jumping out of the plane and then swims at an incredible speed to catch up the torpedo and makes it the right direction again to destroy the warship.

The monkey tries to make the bird happy

Even though this movie is targeting children, all those are educating them to learn to appreciate the warlike personality and sacrifice for the benefit of the whole nation, which is probably beyond the kids’ understanding. However, it is indeed what the sword represents: to be strong and competitive and to struggle for existence and victory of the whole nation, even at the cost to sacrifice them.

The caption can do nothing but surrender

Nonetheless, the story has another half, which is showing the characteristic representing by the chrysanthemum. For the propaganda purpose, the animation does not use the real human being to represent and directly promote the masculinity, the civil responsibility, or the national honor in a traditional western style. In a more romantic genre, they use a folklore character to deliver their message, reducing the seriousness embedded in the warlike issue and increasing the potential to make a profound educational effect on kids. In addition, by adopting the animation genre, they creates a comprehensive image of their soldier as a human being with emotion, or animalized Samurai holding the belief of Bushido, rather than a cold weapon in the war. Expect the braveness and spirit of scarification in the battle, the monkey and dog soldiers can make fun with each other and also care about the ordinary people: playing with a little bird and helping to find its mother.

As the combination of Chrysanthemum and Sword representatives Japanese, the brave but considerate animal soldiers in the movie give a decent reflection.

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