Momotaro: Prove Yourself

The popular children’s folklore hero, Momotaro, has for centuries remained a prominent figure in Japan. Momotaro’s story has been retold over the years through film and text. The folktale follows the story of a young boy, Momotaro, who sets out on a journey to defeat the Ogres of Ogre Island. Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 story Momotaro, and Mitsuyo Seo’s animated 1943 film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, are both adaptations of the original Japanese folklore starring the famous hero, Momotaro. This text and film both operate under different assumptions about Momotaro’s status as a leader, as well as the enemy party’s status as evil. On the one hand, Sazanami allows the audience to assume the evil status of the enemy and provides evidence for Momotaro’s honorable nature, while on the other hand, the film does the exact opposite, respectively; it exemplifies the malevolence of the enemy while assuming Momotaro’s benevolence.

 

Iwaya Sazanami’s retelling of the Momotaro folktale begins from Momotaro’s childhood. In the text, Momotaro sets out on a journey to defeat an enemy party: Ogres. It is Momotaro’s “…intention to start at once and wage war against them…” (19).  Momotaro is determined to defeat these “…hateful creatures…” that “…do harm in Japan…” (18-19). The text assumes the Ogres to be the villains of the story because of Momotaro’s desire to wage war against them. The reader is not given any proof as to what characteristics the Ogres have that define them as villains in the text. Despite not providing the reader any basis for why the Ogres are evil, Sazanami makes it believable simply because of the type of creature he chose to represent the enemy: Ogres. Ogres are typically monstrous beings, and simply choosing them as the enemy conjures up images of depravity in the reader’s mind, thus rendering any further explanation superfluous.

 

Sazanami’s text chooses to truly demonstrate Momotaro’s status as a good leader. As he embarks on his journey, Momotaro meets a dog that he convinces to accompany him on his journey. Momotaro must prove to the dog that he is not evil by telling him that he is “…traveling for the sake of the country and [is] on [his] way to conquer ‘Ogres’ Island’” (23-24). In this same scene, Momotaro gives the dog half of a millet dumpling as an offer of friendship. The dog “…accept[s] the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with [Momotaro] (25). Momotaro continues to give millet dumplings to the other animals that soon accompany him on his journey. In this way, the author is able to effectively prove Momotaro’s trustworthiness through the friendship formed between Momotaro and the animals he meets.

MOMO 1

 

 

The author’s choice to prove Momotaro’s trustworthiness in the text bears a stark contrast to Momotaro’s good leadership that is simply assumed in the film. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the director depicts Momotaro as the leader of an army of animals whose ultimate goal is to defeat the demons of Demon Island. The film’s adaptation of the story chooses to focus on Momotaro’s journey as he wages war on the island. In one scene, the army of animals line up and listen to Momotaro as he explains their plans to defeat Demon Island. Momotaro’s character is not formally introduced and the audience lacks an understanding of any tangible characteristics that would make him a good leader. The audience is simply meant to accept the fact that Momotaro is the captain of the ship, and to continue on from there. The audience is able to ascertain Momotaro’s good nature due to the loyalty of his followers, and the trust they have in him from the way they follow his orders. In the film, Momotaro is not shown to be very involved in the war efforts; he simply tells his army that he will await their return from war. It is clear that in this adaptation of the story, Momotaro is a distant leader. In the text however, Momotaro is very involved in the war efforts and is by his warriors side at all times as they work to defeat the Ogres together. This involvement also serves to improve Momotaro’s image as a good leader in the text.

 

MOMO 2

 

 

The portrayal of enemies in the text is ostensibly different from that of Seo’s film. This film does not explain why Momotaro has set out on his quest to defeat Demon Island. The villains, however, are not granted the same deference. One way the villains in the film are portrayed as evil is through the overconsumption of alcohol. In a scene where Momotaro’s army is attacking the demon army, the leader of the army begins to obnoxiously consume alcohol in the middle of the attack. The audience is able to form a relationship between this overweight, disgusting looking man’s overconsumption of alcohol, and his leadership abilities. The audience then forms a negative opinion toward the demon army, and can readily identify why Momotaro desires to defeat them. The director of the film is able to successfully employ the idea of the overconsumption of alcohol to establish who the villain is. While the text chooses to prove and establish Momotaro’s goodness, the film does the opposite, choosing to imply Momotaro’s goodness because of his strong, perhaps moral desire to defeat an enemy that the audience also agrees needs to be defeated. Momotaro could only be as heroic as his enemies evil; had Seo followed the text’s lead, the film would have portrayed a seemingly good character leading an attack on innocent, albeit unsightly, beings, demons or not. The enemies’ demonic forms would not have necessarily implied to the reader that they were dangerous forces had they not been depicted as doing something harmful in their scenes.

 

Food and drink play important, but different roles in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and Sazanami’s Momotaro text. In the film, the consumption of alcohol is used to display negative characteristics of the enemy army. In the scene with the leader of the demon army drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, the audience is left with a negative image of the demon army in their minds. However, in the text, the consumption of food is used to form positive relationships between characters. When Momotaro gives a millet dumpling to the monkey who soon joins him on his journey, he “…made the monkey his retainer” (28). In this way, the author utilizes food as a way of forming friendships between Momotaro as a leader and the animals as his helpful warriors.

 

Both the film and text adaptation of the story of Momotaro operate under contrasting audience assumptions of Momotaro as a benevolent leader and the antagonists as the enemy. In addition, Mitsuyo Seo and Iwaya Sazanami both employ the use of food to further demonstrate key characteristics of either Momotaro or enemy depicted in their story. However, Seo and Sazanami differ in their choice between establishing good and evil. Sazanami chooses to allow the status of the enemy to be assumed rather than proven, while outlining Momotaro’s righteousness, while Seo did the exact opposite. Despite the contrasting choices, Seo and Sazanami were able to retell the same story while maximizing the benefits of each of their respective mediums.

 

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