Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.
Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.
The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.
In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.
The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.
Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.
The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.
Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.
The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.
While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.