Momotaro’s Game of War

As commander, Momotaro embodied the loyalty, strength and leadership for a successful mission.

Momotaro’s Sea Eagle was an animated propaganda film dramatizing the events of World War II. The film was designed to encourage viewers to celebrate Japan’s December 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and aimed at helping the troops gain financial support from the Japanese nation. In the thirty-seven minute film, Momotaro was the military leader of a naval ship in command of a crew of loyal animals who take on the arduous mission of conquering Demon Island. Momotaro embodied the loyalty, strength and leadership that the Japanese community sought to emulate. His crew was composed of a team of rabbits, monkeys and dogs that together worked in unison to defeat the evil forces. The director, Seo Mitsuyo, strategically used animated propaganda and incorporated the popular Japanese legend of Momotaro to target children for his campaign. By contrasting the relationship between animals and humans in the film, Mistsuyo demonstrated how teamwork, humor and heroism are key elements used in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles to successfully make light of the seriousness of war and to communicate Japanese nationalism to the younger generations.

Cute and cuddly animals represented Japanese soldiers, contrasting significantly from the humanized forms of the American soldier depicted on the Island.

Teamwork was a critical component that helped the film appeal to the younger audiences and suggested that the Japanese were on the natural and “good” side of the war. Children are often able to emotionally relate to animals more so than to humans. Through the strength of teamwork expressed in the crew of animals, the Japanese army was not only viewed as superior over Americans, but also suggested that they were the “good guys” of the war. While Momotaro commanded the crew on their individual tasks, the rabbits used their large, floppy ears to direct the planes for take off and landing, and the dogs and monkeys acted as pilots and soldiers flying out to Demon Island to fulfill Momotaro’s task. Each member of the crew appeared approachable and were illustrated with a cute and cuddly, childlike aesthetic, in both appearance and mannerism. The friendship and teamwork displayed in the crew allowed the Japanese to emerge as “good.” In contrast, the central character that represented the American army was depicted as massive human-like figure, resembling Bluto, an American character from the Popeye cartoon series. The Popeye films had been highly popular and cherished by the community of Japanese children. By incorporating a Bluto look-alike to represents Americans, a child who had seen the Popeye series would have immediately recognized this character to be Popeye’s villain in the show. In addition, the American figure could be interpreted as the “bad guy” by his demonic accessories, such as a tail, horns on his head, and a beer bottle always at hand, implying excessive drinking.

The beer bottle, indicating excessive drinking, stereotyped American’s as the “bad guys”.

The monkey and dog play a game of Jenga on the plane ride to defeat their enemies.

Furthermore, through the use of humor incorporated through comedic relief, Mitsuyo allowed the severity of the events of World War II to be easily understood by viewers and made the war appear like a game, rather than a battle, to the children of Japan. Just to name a few, one instance of such comedy was in one of the opening scenes of the film where the dog and monkey characters playfully struggled to tie their hachimaki around their head. A second instance of humor appeared when the dog and monkey patiently awaited their arrival at Demon Island by laughing and relaxing while playing a game of Jenga to pass the time. In a third instance, while at war a group of monkeys used each other as a ladder to reach the plane hovering in the air above, resembling another childhood game called Monkeys in a Barrel. A final instance where humor was incorporated into the film appeared when a monkey jumped aboard a fired missile and dramatically steered the weapon in the correct direction. Many more instances of comedy were apparent in the film, however these four examples clearly dramatized war to be an enjoyable and carefree experience. Through the comparisons to children’s games and the exaggerated events that took place in these scenes, young viewers gained a sense that the entire entity of war was like a welcoming game begging to be played.

The third tactic used in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to help sway the young Japanese audience to support the side of the Japanese forces was through the glorification of war and the exaggerated comparison of the animal crew as invincible heroes. Although highly unlikely in the realities of war, in the film not one individual was harmed and no casualties were witnessed in the animal army. In addition, bullets were never used to kill an opponent, rather a bullet was used to release a monkey who had trapped his tail in the door, and missiles and explosions were only employed to sink battle ships. Mistuyo diverged from death and focused solely on the victory of the Japanese fleet.  After defeating the enemies on Demon Island every member of the Japanese fleet made a safe journey back to Momotaro and the naval ship, with the exception of Torpedo Bomber No.3. This safe homecoming ensured the youth watching the film that a “happy ending” would be in store for them too if they one day decided to enlist in the military. Similar to how superheroes inspire American children with a sense of nationalism, Mistuyo used anime to effectively communicate Momotaro’s army to be extremely desirable to Japan’s younger generation.

The celebration of a safe journey home.

Mitsuyo’s integration of teamwork, humor and heroism in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle allowed the youth of Japan to envision and acknowledge the principles of Japanese national pride by exemplifying the ideas of patriotism and victory into the minds of Japan’s children.

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