Militarism in Momotaro’s Stories

Militarism in Momotaro’s Stories

Seo Mitsuyo’s movie, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, bases its story on the Japanese folklore Momotaro. One of the most well-known version of the Momotaro story is the Iwaya Sazanami’s version. However, by extracting the ruler-ruled relationship between Momotaro and the three animals through millet dumplings, the movie eventually finds its way to militarism hidden in the folklore, becoming a propaganda film in World War II. In the film, Momotaro is not only a hero in children’s folklore, but a commander in the battle to the island of ogres. Also, in contrast to the powerful boy who protects his own family in the folklore, Momotaro in the propaganda movie becomes the inspiration for the young generations to grow up with militarism in their mind.

Millet dumplings has played important roles in both the folklore and the movie. “ ‘These’, said Peach-Boy, ‘are the best millet dumplings in Japan. I cannot give you a whole one, I will give you half-a-one’…[the dog] accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it” (Sazanami, 25). Similarly, Momotaro gives each of the monkey and the pheasant half a dumpling after defeating them. He decides the amount of the dumpling, exhibiting his power over the animals. Also, Momotaro seeks for subordinates, the animals, through violence; he expand his own little empire through defeating one after another. Since millet dumplings are “suitable food for a warrior”, Momotaro’s sharing of half a dumpling unites one boy and three animals together to form a small empire built up on militarism (Sazanami, Momotaro, 21).


The monkey eats millet dumplings to make himself stronger.


The monkey become more muscular after eating the millet dumplings.

In Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, millet dumplings appear as a militaristic embodiment bearing Seo’s respect for the food. It is no longer a payment from Momotaro to his soldiers; it serves as a stimulant to make the monkey muscular after he eats the dumplings. The little biceps popping out of the monkey’s arm shows Seo’s inspiration from American animation, Popeye, who gets more muscular and stronger after eating spinach. Seo’s inclusion of the bumping bicep is sarcastic. Together with the scene where the alcoholic American ogre act clumsily like a retarded, Seo rides over Popeye as if he is showing that only the Japanese dumplings can empower the soldiers. In Seo’s movie, the millet dumpling is no longer the price that Momotaro uses to conquer the three animals, but the essence of Seo’s broader desire to rule over the world.

The genres of the folklore and the animation are similar in terms of their target audience, helping them disseminating the militaristic ideology to younger generations. Sazanami’s Momotaro is a children’s folklore, and he was an expert in integrating stories into children’s literature. However, given that he published the story in Meiji Period, the story has special meanings for important restoration and the building empire. Multiple aspects such as the old couple prepare for Momotaro’s journey as a warrior, Momotaro building his own army, and the rout against the ogres, expresses the nation’s ambition of establishing its own military forces. Sazanami’s indication of the ambition in the children’s folklore is a way of fitting the big torrent of the nation’s development, and also to dissolve such ideology in education of the children.

On the other hand, Seo’s movie was on the screen in during World War II, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which Momotaro’s Sea Eagle implies. Seo utilizes the American techniques in making an animation with the exaggeration of the characters and movements to celebrate their success in the battle of Pearl Harbor. The animation is also a tool to spread the militaristic ideology amongst the target audience, the younger population, of this propaganda movie. In all, both Sazanami and Seo succeed in not only entertainment, but also propagating militarism in the education of the younger generation.

The young boy, Momotaro, exhibits the extreme strength of a fifteen-year-old boy in both works, but the ultimate goals of using the boy image are slightly different. Sazanami’s folklore has a commonly seen happy ending, solidifying Momotaro’s power in protecting themselves. In the folklore, Momotaro jumps out of the peach, and he is named after it – Momo means peach and Taro is a commonly seen name suffix among Japanese boys who are the first sons of their parents. Momotaro, as the first son and “an exception to other people” of the old couple, receives so much love and bear so much hope from the old couple that “whatever [he] [likes] to ask [the Old Man] will listen to it” (Sazanami, 18). Momotaro’s uniqueness determines his arbitrary position in making the decisions in front of the old couple. When Momotaro returns to the old couple and “[live] happily ever after”, they have “more and more power” (Sazanami, 39-40). Momotaro’s strength provides the whole family the potential to live a more satisfying and stable life without the disturbance of the ogres. In Meiji Period, Japan, undergoing invasions and unequal treaties, became active in self-development and the repeal of the treaties. Momotaro’s image in the mighty defender for his own family is encouraging in such dramatically changing society, indicating that a nation’s military empowerment is beneficial in self-protection and in resistance to the invasion from the outside.


The koinobori (鯉のぼり) hanging in the plane.

In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Japanese boys can also find empathy, since the koinobori in the movie is an embodiment for Children’s Day or Boy’s Day in Japan. However, the boy figure in the movie is a catalyze in educating younger generations to become soldiers of military expansion. In Edo Period, Japanese families used to hang koinobori at their front gates if they want to have sons; after Meiji Restoration, koinobori stands for the family hope for sons to grow healthily and strongly. Seo’s integration of families’ love and wish for their sons blended in koinobori provides Momotaro a more solid and ideal boy figure.

Most crucially, Seo implies that the boys should bear the military and national consciousness and apply their best boy qualities on the battles of military expansion in World War Two. In another scene in the movie where Momotaro gives his soldiers the speech, he shows that he is perfectly suitable of being a commander. Momotaro possesses the qualities, such as bravery and intelligence, as a leader. Momotaro leads the troop, command the battle operations, and, according to their compassionate morale, provides confidence for the whole troop. This enrichment of the boy character in the movie has the potential to inspire the younger generations in Japan to grow up like Momotaro brave and powerful. Similar to the Momotaro in Sazanami’s folklore, he is a representation of leadership and heroism in the boy-animal relationship. Nevertheless, in contrast to Sazanami’s conservatism, which is merely to reinforce self-protection, Seo’s movie expresses a more radical ideology that is outward expansion, fitting perfectly with the big picture of World War II..

If Sazanami’s Momotaro is only a vague display of militarism in Meiji Period for self-improvement of the Japanese nation, Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle extracts all of the militaristic aspect in the folklore and amplifies it to the largest extend. World War Two has endowed all aspects in the movie, including millet dumplings, alcoholic Americans, Momotaro and the animal soldiers, with an intense sense of military expansion.


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