The folk tale of Momotarō, known and loved by Japanese people for many decades, tells the story of a boy born from a peach who journeys to an island far away to fight evil ogres that are harming the people of Japan. Both Seo Mitsuyo, the director of the anime film Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, and Tsuchimoto Noriaki, the director of the documentary Minamata: The Victims and Their World, utilize Momotarō as a concept in their films to create two very different ideas of the “hero.” While Momotarō’s Sea Eagle uses him as a traditional role model to make the story more relatable to the general population of Japan, Minamata aims to bring the idea of a “hero” down to everyday life.
In Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Momotarō himself is featured as one of the characters. He assumes the place of the Japanese captain in the Pearl Harbor attacks. He is used to bring a friendly face into the film to more easily indoctrinate the children watching it into wartime, since most children are familiar with the tale of Momotarō but not with Isoroku Yamamoto, the actual mastermind behind the Pearl Harbor attack. Momotarō does not actually physically make the journey to the island where the “ogres” (Americans) are, but instead serves as the leadership, somewhat removed from the Japanese people, motivating the animals (Japanese soldiers) under his command to successfully execute the attack. In this film, the hero is a typical war hero — the person in charge of a large-scale military effort. The hero of Momotarō is used as a tactic to gain viewership and make the story more relatable to the general population, even though the story itself is not relatable to the average citizen in the least.
In Minamata, in contrast to Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the Momotarō-like hero of the documentary is actually a group of people, rather than a single being. This “hero” is actually the group of Minamata patients who travel to Osaka, which is on a different island from their hometown of Minamata, to fight the “ogres” of the Chisso Corporation. In this film, the hero actually is the common people, representing not only themselves but all people affected by the Minamata disease in some way or another. Unlike in Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the hero is the underdog in Minamata, who must stand up for his or herself in a world where very few people are willing to help — a story that is much more likely to occur in the everyday lives of ordinary Japanese citizens.
The iconic hero of Momotarō is used in very different ways in the documentary Minamata: The Victims and Their World and the anime film Momotarō’s Sea Eagle. Though both utilize the concept of the hero Momotarō, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle depicts the hero in a much more traditional manner (as a leader who brings pride to his people by directing those beneath him), while Minamata reinvents the hero as a group of people bringing hope to their everyday situations and all those in situations like theirs.