Momotaro: Using Folklore to Explain the Present

In his animated film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Mitsuyo Seo effectively links the traditional story of Momotaro with Japan’s fight World War II.  By choosing a story that everyone is familiar with, Seo allows the viewer to spend less time trying to figure out the plot and characters, and more time buying into the wartime propaganda associated with the film.  Using the traditional folklore of Momotaro along with animation allows him to soften the seriousness of a wartime film, yet still be able to portray message to viewers of all ages.

The dog and monkey put on their hachimaki’s as they prepare for war 

Seo’s ability to use animation to exaggerate the actions of the characters in the film allows for the emotions of battle, along with a sense of nationalism to be instilled in the minds of the film’s viewers.  Since it is an anime, he is able to feature the attractive parts of war without really having to delve too deeply into the negative aspects.  One of the first scenes in the film, where the dog struggles to put on his hachimaki and is teased by the monkey, causes the audience to experience the camaraderie that soldiers share while in battle.  Despite their looming invasion on Demon Island, they seem upbeat and ready to work with one another to accomplish their goal.

The clumsy demon leader with beer bottles flying out of his pants.

One of the most important features of national propaganda, whether it is a poster or a film, is creating an enemy for a nation to root against.  The film does an effective job of casting the “demon”, (American) in a negative light.  His clumsy, obese characteristics and mannerisms contribute to the idea that the Americans are an easy enemy to defeat.  Also, having the American take on the “demon” role from the traditional folklore causes viewers to immediately come to the conclusion that their attack on America was justified, just as Momotaro’s attack (in the folktale) on demon island was justified.

A pilot quickly approaches his target.

More than anything, the animation in the film causes there to be a significant lack of realism in the film, as it fantasizes what war is really about.  In the film, “kamikaze” type attacks are briefly featured, but they are shown in such a subtle way that only the adults viewing the film could pick up it.  The first person view of the “demon” ships from the airplane shows the plane quickly approaching the ship, yet cuts out right before it actually makes contact.  Another scene in which the monkey rides the missile and guides it to its target is also a representation of the Japanese mentality to do whatever it takes to complete the mission; however, it ends in a comedic fashion as the explosion pushes the monkey back into his seat in the airplane.

Seo’s propaganda anime brings multiple generations of viewers together as a traditional folktale is applied to the real world crisis of war.  Its familiar story allows for adults and children alike to enjoy and understand the film, all while creating a strong sense of nationalism for their country.

 

 

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