Propaganda permeates the modern era, especially during war times. In 1942, after Japan exploded into World War 2, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, an animated film directed by Mitsuyo Seo and produced with cooperation by the Japanese Naval Ministry, was released to the Japanese public. Due to its stylized animation and adaptation of a well known child’s tale, it is clear that this film is directed towards children and was meant to be a system of nationalism to the youth of Japan.
Rather simply put, a system is set of parts that come together to create an object or idea that is more important than the pieces. In this case, a system of propaganda is a series of ideas that must be impressed upon a group in order to get them to believe something.
Seo clearly wanted to instill a sense that the Japanese military is good and right in the minds of the youth.
The opening scene of the movie is a Japanese aircraft carrier, with a collection of various shots of all of the animals on board with Japanese flag head bands, as seen in the above screen shot, which is a clear demonstration of the power and unity of the Japanese navy. The effect of this is two-fold: the solidarity and unity of the force connects well with males, something that is seen often in male-centric cartoons, and the cuteness of the animals attracts and holds the attention of young children. Later in the film, the monkey that is focused on most throughout the film is able to dive out of his plane, surge through the water, correct his torpedo’s path, and ride out the explosion back into the cockpit of his plane.
This is very reminiscent of classic Warner Brothers cartoons, in particular the ever popular Bugs Bunny. Utilizing a similar psychological effect, Seo developed a similar heroic quality to that monkey, thereby symbolically applying that heroism to the Japanese navy in the minds of the youth. Seo’s use of appealing to the youth’s natural instincts successfully sets the Japanese military into a heroic standing.
Utilizing the stylized animation employed in the film, Seo was able to successfully create the sense that war is a fun activity. The scene that demonstrates this most clearly is the scene in which the dog and the monkey are playing a block stacking game on the way to the battle.
In a time that should be stressful and tenuous, these soldiers are enjoying themselves with a competitive game. This appeals to the average child’s interests, and connects the military as an extension of their current idea of fun.
In times of war, it is very common for countries to attempt to stir up nationalism and unity in the hope that it will generate and maintain support for the war as well as helping to sustain the wartime economy. As such, it is not surprising that the tale of Momotaro was appropriated and pro-military propaganda applied to it. By adding creating a strong yet trustworthy feeling to the soldiers as well as games to Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Seo successfully creates a system of nationalism for the viewing youth.