Momotarō’s Sea Eagle: Propagandizing with Food
Mitsuyo Seo’s animated film, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, tells the story of a naval unit of (commanded by one of Japan’s most popular folktale characters, Momotarō), who fight together and ultimately defeat the demons of Onigashima. Serving as a World War II propaganda piece, the film dramatizes the events of that in the Pearl Harbor attack with the animal soldiers (led by Momotarō) representing the Japanese, and the demons portraying the Americans and British enemies. Multiple instances throughout the film, Seo brings the element of food to the audience’s attention, including: the soldier who eats millet dumplings to prepare for battle, the demon surrounded by beer bottles, and finally the soldiers celebrating their victory with Japanese treats. Through the inclusion of food in the film, Seo clearly distinguishes between comrade and foe, creating strong national pride and unity among the Japanese community.
The first encounter with food within the film occurs just before the animal troops set off to destroy the demons of Onigashima. One of the monkey soldiers quickly returns to his quarters on the ship to retrieve his sack of millet dumplings before setting off for battle. Providing the monkey with such an everyday food item like millet dumplings allows the audience to easily relate to the animal soldiers, and ultimately the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Though the monkey could have gone back for any food in the world to bring with him, Seo deliberately chose something easily relatable like millet dumplings in order to create a strong connection between the animal soldiers in the film and the audiences at home. However, the most interesting aspect of the millet dumplings takes place on the plane, just before the animals reach Onigashima. After the monkey eats some of the millet dumplings to prepare for battle, he suddenly seems to have gained strength (seen in his rapidly growing biceps) and courage. Not only do the millet dumplings serve to establish a connection with the Japanese community, but they also seem to have enchanted powers attached to them that will aid the monkey in battle. Through the depiction of such magical millet dumplings, Seo seems to have implied something special and noteworthy about the place that from which they came. In providing Japan such an elevated status within the film, Seo establishes a sense of national pride that brings people together around the country.
Food is again used and brought to the audience’s attention in efforts to further disgrace and discredit the demons of Onigahima. When the animal soldiers besiege their enemies’ ship, the demons are depicted thrashing around the deck, running against piles of empty beer bottles. The mass number of beer bottles helps isolate them as complete drunkards rather than one who drinks a socially acceptable amount of alcohol. In a sense, the portrayal of the demons surrounded by beer bottles juxtaposes the image of the animal soldiers with their enchanted millet dumplings. Rather than providing the demons with strength and courage to take on their enemies in battle, the beer even further inhibits the men, deeming him completely incoherent and unable to perform any tasks at all. Overall, these men are complete embarrassments to their people – fumbling around on the deck, mumbling incomprehensively, and cowardly seeking refuge from battle. Seo intentionally leaves the demons no redeeming qualities so that he can successfully create a common enemy for his intended audience. The presence of a common enemy justifies all and any violent and less-than pleasant actions taken against them. There is nothing about drunken demons with which anyone could or would want to relate. Therefore, their defeat is interpreted and regarded among the audience as a victory. Through the use of beer in this scene, Seo establishes a common enemy among the people, and in the process, again forms a surge of national unity against this unworthy animated figure.
Of course, when the animal soldiers defeat the demons of Onigashima, food plays a vital role in their celebratory ritual. When it is announced that the animal soldiers were not only victorious in their battle, but also successful in bringing back every animal unscathed, it’s cause for celebration with drinks and delicious treats. It’s interesting to note also the completely unrealistic outcome of the battle. Though it’s highly unlikely that a side could manage to bring back every last soldier unharmed, the fact that it did happen in the film creates the image of a powerful army, insuperable to demons of any kind. The film probably also minimized the violence and tragedy associated with war as it is a film geared toward a prominently juvenile audience. Seo knowingly incorporated food into the final scene, aware that this aspect of joyous celebration with tasty treats and drinks holds a great appeal to the children. Rewarding the animal soldiers with treats for their success once again offers a situation completely relatable to the viewers. The association with the demons’ defeat with joyous cries, food and drink, and overall happiness reaffirms the fact that this was a victory and the animals are comrades, not foes. The triumphant, celebratory atmosphere not surprisingly brings the viewers together, uniting them under the success of defending their country.
In Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Mitsuyo Seo constructs a story of animal soldiers battling against the demons of Onigashima in order to adapt the events of Pearl Harbor to a wider audience. Through this propaganda film in full support of the Japanese military and naval units, Seo aimed to unite Japanese society and create a surge of national pride. In the film, food plays a large role in the distinction between comrade (animal soldiers) and foe (demons). Food was specifically chosen as a vehicle for national pride because it’s a commodity relatable to common man – it can communicate the same message to a wide variety of audiences. Rather than showing graphic, gruesome images of war to rally support, the utilization of food in the film works to bring everyone together under a patriotic image.