By: Natalie Jongjaroenlarp
Seo Mitsuyo’s Momotaro effectively dramatizes the victory the Japanese enjoyed as they attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. Japan held the emperor in high esteem since “the efforts of Meiji oligarchs to unite the nation in response to the Western challenge” were realized. In this “emperor -based ideology,” the emperor was looked at as “the head of the Shintô religion” where he was held to the belief that he was “semidivine” because he was descended from the “gods who created Japan.” As seen in Momotaro, the character of Momotaro is representative of such an emperor. Momotaro commands all of the animal soldiers that go into battle and destroy the U.S. forces. Although Momotaro is not the emperor, he is the closest thing there is to the actual emperor because he dictates and takes out the orders for the good of the country. The soldiers look to him for guidance with a real sense of patriotic fervor. As seen in the screenshot below, the soldiers are content to be told by their leader, Momotaro, that he is proud of all of them for the courage that was displayed, even in the face of death.
This tv show is well developed for the screen because it not only shows the Japanese during a victory, it also caters to younger audiences in the portrayal of the characters. The characters are all animated in a way that grabs at the hearts of the younger Japanese generation. The soldiers depicted are animals that children typically love as they are mainly creatures that have cute, cuddly characteristics such as monkeys, birds and bunnies. In this way, the characters are more appealing and interesting to watch. In addition, the character of Momotaro speaks with a childlike voice which allows children to imagine Japan under their own hands. This shows the children that they, one day, will run the country as the older generations pass on. This fact alone ties the younger generations to their ancestors. As a result, the national feelings are heightened even more as personal memories are remembered with each generation that, in turn, connects them to the older generations before them.
In addition, the victory adds to the patriotism. As seen in the screenshot above, the bunnies are cheering as they come out victorious after the fight. The victory gives younger viewers something to be proud of and, as a result, raises their sense of national identity. This can also be seen in the animated folklore by Iwaya Sazanami. The story is developed in a way that puts Japanese nationalism at the forefront. Peach-Boy, as Momotaro is called in this version, asks his father for permission to “start at once and wage war against [the ogres], to catch and crush them” (Sazanami, 19), as the ogres “do harm in Japan” (Sazanami,18) by taking people to “eat them”(Sazanami, 18) and “seize [their] valuable property” (Sazanami, 18). This heroic ambition is consummated and, as we all know, ends in victory.
The national ideology is established by the Peach-Boy himself, showing that children have the power to give back to their parents and, most importantly, their country. While the national ideology is introduced through Peach Boy in this version, the Momotaro tv version establishes this important theme from the very beginning when he and his soldiers go straight to war with the “demons,” as the Americans are called in the episode. Japanese identity is explored in the same way in both pieces, however, the characters are given different circumstances from which to express the ideology.
Iwaya, Sazanami. Momotaro = the Story of Peach-boy. Tokyo: Hokuseido, 1938. Print.
“Japan’s Quest for Power and World War II in Asia.” Modern History:. Columbia University. Web. 31 May 2012. <http:// afe.easia.columbia.edu/japan/japanworkbook/modernhist/ wwii.html>.