Momotaro: Unity Through Food

In the traditional folktale of Momotaro, a bag of millet dumplings made with care and love by Momotaro’s parents go a long way to helping Momotaro assemble allies for the fight against the demons on Ogres’ Island. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, millet dumplings play an equally important role as a symbol of comfort, warmth, and strength. These dumplings are used to bring people together. Unlike in the folktale where they are deployed by Momotaro as a way to attract allies, the millet dumplings in the anime are passed around by the animal army to help them through their mission of destroying Demon Island, which stands to represent Japan’s Western adversaries.

As the planes are preparing for take-off, one plane appears to be missing a monkey soldier. As the dog soldier searches for his comrade, the monkey runs up, grasping a bag of millet dumplings.

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“Millet dumplings!” This monkey urgently holds up a bag of millet dumplings to the departing soldiers.

This early shot in the anime establishes the importance of the dumplings. With his mouth open wide, the monkey clearly displays his panic and unwillingness to leave behind the dumplings. The monkey risks missing take-off just to ensure that they will have this food for their trip. With this early scene, it is foreshadowed that these dumplings will appear later to play a crucial role in the film.

Monkey takes a delicious bite of the millet dumplings.

Monkey takes a delicious bite of the millet dumplings.

Muscle springs from the arm of a monkey who has just eaten a millet dumpling.

Muscle springs from the arm of a monkey who has just eaten a millet dumpling.

Millet dumplings reappear to provide support before the war. With a bit of humor in the scene, a muscle springs from the arm of a monkey, due to the millet dumpling he has eaten. While the scene is certainly depicted to be one full of levity and comic relief to appeal to its young target audience, the scene also draws on the symbolism of millet dumplings. Before going on to fight, the animal soldiers find comfort, strength, and assurance in this simple, humble Japanese snack. In this way, we can see how food is often used as a source of strength to prepare people for upcoming difficulties. In a similar fashion, other traditional Japanese symbols and foods such as the hachimaki, koinobori, and onigiri are used in the anime to show unity and confidence among the animal soldiers, who represent the Japanese armies.

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To comfort the lost baby eagle that landed on his plane, this monkey pulls out an unexpected surprise from his millet dumpling bag.

Young eagle displays a face splitting smile as it forgets its sadness and is comforted by the toy plane.

Young eagle displays a face splitting smile as it forgets its sadness and is comforted by the toy plane.

In this scene, a toy plane emerges from the dumplings bag instead of actual food. The lost baby eagle that has ended up on one of the troop’s planes is in tears and wishes to return to its mother. After the monkey fails to cheer up this eagle by making silly faces, the toy plane is what finally brings a smile to the eagle’s face. While no longer directly using food, yet still referencing the millet dumplings, the toy plane that appears instead serves a similar purpose to that of the millet dumplings in the folktale. The plane that is used to comfort the young eagle lands the animal troops a very important ally, the baby eagle’s mother. Nearing the end of the mission, one team finds their plane in ruins, headed straight into the deep waters. While hanging on for their lives, they are saved at the last moment as the mother eagle swoops in for the soldiers and brings them to safety. No food is explicitly portrayed in these scenes, but the underlying idea is that the toy plane stands in for the millet dumplings as an object that brings security and relief to those in distress. While Momotaro offered dumplings to the pheasant, dog, and monkey that were in need of food, the monkey in the anime offers his toy plane to the infant eagle who was in need of some comfort. In the end, the plane contributes to Momotaro’s success of taking down Demon Island and guaranteed that all the troops returned back to the home front safely and without casualties.

As wartime propaganda, food in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles helps glorify the Japanese army, as the food in this anime is employed to unify allies, showing off a national identity, while providing support and reassurances to the soldiers. With the help of the millet dumplings, the audience is able to understand and identify with the animal army.  Although it now acts to benefit propaganda, food is a central part in this anime, just as it is in the original folktale.

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