Illusion, Repetition, Indoctrination: Propaganda in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle

Shot 1: Flying Monkey behind Aircraft

Sponsored by the Japanese Naval Ministry, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is a featured full-length anime produced in 1942 that effectively dramatizes a system of national ideology through propagandizing the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. I argue that through not only the medium used, but also through the repetitive illusions of war depicted in the anime, viewers are indoctrinated to justify and support warfare. First, expressing war through anime adds a taste of entertainment and lightheartedness to the burdensome topic. This is clearly demonstrated in the above shot in which the crucial assistant Monkey is late and thus left behind. During wartime, punctuality and preparedness are crucial factors that decide one’s life or death. Yet, despite the looming, heavy, and dark clouds, Monkey is able to swim its way through air – clearly a practical impossibility – and join its crew without consequences.

Shot 2: Game in Cockpit with Triumphant Monkey

To avoid further the cruelties of war, the anime extends the sense of relaxation by revealing what Monkey and Dog do within the cockpit. This playful scene, as captured in the above shot, repeats again another impossible feat – the stacking of woodblocks of various shapes in an unconventional way, not even to mention the possible turbulence during flight! Instead of seeing weapons, armors, parachutes, or simply another controller, we simply see a classic square dining table. Not only is it used to play woodblocks, Monkey sits in triumphant glory over the challenge, noting its crossed legs, crossed arms in front of its chest, its tilted chin, and finally, its huge smile. Clearly, Monkey and Dog seem to be able to find leisure time for game play during war.

Shot 3: Monkey Befriending with Millet Dumplings

With the satirical comment emphasizing playfulness aside, the illusion of war as a joyful and carefree affair is also depicted when Monkey pulls out a bag of millet dumplings to befriend Baby Sea Eagle. Though forming alliances may be common during times of war, they often involve a great deal of cost-benefit analysis with skepticism lurking behind. Yet, Monkey not only tries to comfort the crying Baby Sea Eagle without hesitation, but also persists on its efforts by using the dumplings when Monkey fails initially with its funny faces. Though a toy plane is pulled out of the bag, it functions equivalently well as the dumplings in the folktale of Momotaro, instilling a sense of indebtedness in Baby Sea Eagle and Sea Eagle, who later return to rescue them.

Shot 4: Monkey Controlling Torpedo

Then, a striking scene during the war occurs when Monkey dives into the ocean, swimming at an incredible speed to control the off target torpedo. By riding on the torpedo, Monkey not only redirects the torpedo into its correct path, but also shows its mastery in its military and commanding skills through its posture and form – extended legs and arms with a sword in one. Through this scene, the theme of carefreeness resurfaces, and the Japanese dominance and confidence are reinforced.

Shot 5: Monkey Taking Picture from Wing

Thus, by a constant repetition of illusions of war, such as those aforementioned, the anime propagandizes and enhances the idea that war is not as cruel, tiresome, and dangerous as it sounds. Rather, war is portrayed as a carefree and joyful event among a group of friends, bombarding enemies with torpedoes as if such acts were taken for granted like those playful games of woodblocks and teasing. Hence, the ultimate national ideology of Japan being superior is clearly and repetitively illustrated through their victorious and riskless fight against the Demons in the anime, and the victory is memorable enough to warrant a picture as in shot five.

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