Characterization of Momotaro: Makings of a powerful documentary and effective propaganda cartoon.

Classical folk lore representation of the image of Momotaro and his followers.

The classical folk lore hero, Momotaro, is employed as a tool by the directors of Minatmata and Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to help the greater Japanese public relate to the national anxieties taking place in each film. By employing the popular image, unfamiliar and traditionally uncomfortable situation are made familiar and with new perspective. The story of Momotaro is as common to the Japanese public as the fairytale of Snow White is to American youth. Momotaro is a brave, selfless and noble child sent from the heavens. He sacrifices his peaceful life with his parents in order to defeat the ogres terrifying Japan. Both directors Seo and Tsuchimoto call upon this hero imagery in their respective films.

In Momotaro Sea Eagle, director Mitsuyo Seo uses the imagery of Momotaro as a propaganda instrument. During the time of the filming, WWII was raging and the bombing of Pearl Harbor has just taken place. Mitsuyo Seo chooses to represents Momotaro as a brave and strong commander, allowing any Japanese the ability to relate to the military.

Momotaro in a Japanese navel outfit directing his follows to attack Demon Island.

In the image above, we see Momotaro in a modern Navel outfit with the Japanese national symbol worn across his head. He is directing his troops to carry out a bombing raid on Demon Island. Mitsuyo Seo employs this use of Momotaro to successfully relate viewers to the war and their own national duty; a situation that should be new and terrifying is replaced with common and familiar themes of Japanese folk lore. Momotaro is seen as a high power, one who demands respect and obedience. He has a duty to lead his subordinates into war and defeat the enemy for the greater good. Viewers of this film relate themselves to the dog, monkey, and pheasant and are overwhelmed with their own calling to take up arms and fight for the righteous Momotaro without questioning the reasons for the war.

Noriaki Tsuchimoto also calls upon the popular image of Momotaro in the film Minamata: The Victims and their World. The film centers on the townspeople of Minamata’s quest to shed national notoriety and receive compensation for the spreading of pollutants by the Chisso Corporation. The image of Momotaro is drawn upon less directly but still just as powerfully.

Protestors from Minamata addressing the public on their way to the Chisso shareholders meeting.

In the image above, we see the people of Minamata demonstrating in the streets of Tokyo wearing traditional pilgrim clothing. What is truly powerful are the words this woman speaks, “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell.” This makes direct reference to Momotaro’s journey to Ogre Island. Tsuchimoto identifies the entire town of Minamata as the hero with a duty to travel to a distant land representing their cause. Thus the protesters are viewed within the image of Momotaro, and this allows the common viewer to identify with their cause to defeat evil just like Momotaro.

In each film, a pressing national threat has emerged that is strange and unfamiliar to the public. The image of Momotaro is employed by both directors in order for the common viewer to understand and sympathize with the statements being made. In effect, viewers have no choice but to assume the nobleness of the characters displayed as Momotaro and the evilness of the enemy, thus making for a powerful documentary and effective propaganda cartoon.

 

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