Mitsuyo Seo’s animated film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, is a literary adaptation of the popular Japanese folklore Momotaro. This wartime propaganda film depicts the character, Momotaro, as the leader of an army of animals who possess the ultimate goal of defeating an army of demons. Through the film’s portrayal of Momotaro’s army of animals as cute and adorable, the director of the film is able to appeal to a younger audience in an entertaining and comical way and, as a result, help to dispense the realities of war while making the subject matter more accessible.
The depiction of Momotaro’s army of animals is undoubtedly successful in making the film enjoyable and entertaining for children. They are cuddly in appearance, and are constantly smiling and having a good time with one another. The animals do not appear to be at all intimidating and murderous, thus allowing young audiences to be drawn to them. The way the animals behave is childlike and amusing, even in the midst of preparation for war. In a scene where the animals are preparing to attack the demons of Demon Island, one of the bunnies struggles to put on his hachimaki and is laughed at by a fellow monkey soldier. This scene clearly serves to downplay the seriousness of war due to the juxtaposition of a scene of war preparation with jest on the part of the monkey. This scene also allows a respite for young audiences to be entertained by the fun that the animal soldiers are having together.
There is a striking contrast between how the two armies are presented in this animated film. The demons of Demon Island are portrayed as extremely clumsy and disorganized. The leader of the army is an overweight, disgusting looking man who runs around wildly when Momotaro’s army attacks. He resembles the fictional character Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis in the popular animated cartoon series. Young viewers familiar with Bluto’s character may have an immediate bad first impression of him, recognizing him as the popular villain. In the middle of the attack, he begins to obnoxiously consume alcohol. This creates a rather ugly, yet amusing image of the demon army. It is clear that they are not at all prepared for war and lack the skills that Momotaro’s army bears. This scene is humorous and young viewers can laugh at the expense of the demon army and their leader, further downplaying the seriousness of the attack and the reality that their lives are at risk. Through the contrast between the likeable, smart animals of Momotaro’s army and the unintelligent, oafish demons of Demon Island, young viewers are able to immediately identify Momotaro’s army as the “good” side and the demons as the “bad”. Momotaro’s army is meant to represent the Japanese army, while the demons they aim to defeat represent the American army. Moreover, Japan is depicted as “good and “righteous”. Through making the material less serious, it serves to function as an indoctrination tool for young viewers through the depiction of the Japanese army as likeable characters.
The director of Momotaro’s Sea Eagles not only depicts Momotaro’s Japanese soldiers as juvenile and innocent, but as knowledgeable and skillful. Throughout the film, the animals are playful, yet constantly aware and competent. They act quickly and are extremely sharp. In a scene where Momotaro’s army is preparing to attack the demon army, the monkeys playfully climb on one another, forming a ladder, to get on the plane so that they may depart. This is a comical and clever way for them to board the plane that is going to taking them to site of the attack. As in the previous scenes, this scene is effective in creating a playful atmosphere in the midst of a serious war. In addition, it shows how brave the monkeys are; they are so confident in their abilities to fight that they are able to behave in a way we can reasonably presume is how they behave under normal, non-warlike circumstances. Even though Momotaro’s army is attacking the demon army, the viewers, especially young ones, cannot help but form a loving connection toward the animals and their mission.
Through the use of adorable and accessible animals to represent Momotaro’s Japanese army, Mitsuyo Seo is successful in making his animated film a propaganda film fit for younger viewers. Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is able to take war as a series of violent acts, to an entertaining spectacle with which young viewers can easily connect and enjoy. Young viewers are not exposed to the cruel realities of war in this film, and are therefore drawn to the animals of Momotaro’s army. Thus, it is clear that the effect of the film is to give a positive image of Japan, devoid of cruelty and violence. This film does not inform viewers of the realities of war, but rather, the biased, purported reality of the infallibility of the Japanese army.