Propaganda in Momotaro

Momotarō’s Sea Eagle (1942) is wartime propaganda film dramatizing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The film depicts various animals from the Momotaro folktale (including dogs, rabbits, birds, and monkeys) attacking Demon Island. This film is intended for children, but at the same time it is a propaganda meant to create a system of national ideology. Along with other propaganda-esque characteristics, the film makes various appeals to cuteness (due to the target demographic).

The main method the filmmakers utilize to create this system of national ideology is their appeal to the cuteness of the animals. The animals all have very animated and exaggerated features that resemble those that can be found in many children’s stories. This creates a very inviting and engaging story, and at the same time the viewers can begin to like the characters (they are obviously the “good” guys). The animals become a role model of sorts.

One feature apparent in the film is a sense of collaboration. The animals all work together to complete the ultimate task of bombing Demon Island. Not only do they fly planes together, but they also help each other out with the attack. In one scene, we see several monkeys creating a ladder out of their bodies in order to help other monkeys into a plane. Not only is this an illustration of teamwork and collaboration, but it’s also an appeal to the cuteness of the situation. The animals are attacking the “enemy” and it is implied, but not shown, that the enemy is dying. It could be a very gruesome scene, but with this appeal to cuteness, the actions of the animals are essentially justified, and thus a system of national ideology is created: the viewers want to be part of this animal team, attacking the enemy.

Comical, cute animal wearing Japanese headband.

With the cuteness of the animals justified, the enemy is displayed in stark contrast to them. The inhabitants of Demon Island are depicted as clumsy. The leader of Demon Island is extremely fat and it’s shown that he is very unknowledgeable and frantic. Clearly, he has no idea what is going on. Though this may be comical as well, but it is not cute. The filmmakers make the Demons appear ugly, and the viewers are meant to laugh at them. Clearly, we do not want to be like the demons. The animals are obviously superior.

The ugly Demon enemy depicted drinking.

While all these events are taking place, we are constantly reminded that the animals represent the people of Japan. The animals wear headbands reminiscent of Japanese headbands, and the planes they fly have Japanese flags on them. Their leader, Momotaro, wears clothes highly indicative of a general in Japan. This is another main method the filmmakers utilize to create this national ideology.

Monkeys working together to accomplish the goal.

Momotaro, depicted as a child, represents the leader of the collaborative animals. They all follow Momotaro’s orders and they fight for him. Since Momotaro is a child, this appeal is made to the young audience again. This is intended to evoke a sense of desire in children to want to become leaders. The film shows that it’s possible for children to become leaders of Japan to attack any enemies.

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