In all instances of war propaganda is an important mainstay. The ability to sway people to one side of a conflict via the use of media, or the use of a certain beloved character can be especially damning. The use of the myth of Momotaro in the 1940’s makes me all the more disappointed that someone would use the myth to build a community based on such a negative emotion as hate.
In the Sazanami version as well as the national Diet Library version, Momotaro is found by an old couple in the mountains. The wife finds a giant peach in a river after washing clothes, she then brings the giant peach inside to present as a gift to her husband, right before cutting it upon a cry emerges from the peach, and Momotaro is found to be inside. From thereon, Momotaro is raised by the old couple as their own, and somewhere upon turning fifteen he goes out to slay an island of Ogres who are causing destruction upon Japan. Along the way he meets animal companions who he wins over with millet dumplings, and he returns with untold treasures after his victory. As you can tell, these versions of the myth lack much warlike structure or propaganda. While there is a battle, and a large genocide of evil ogres is committed, the violence is never shown, and Momotaro is shown to have won by using his wit and kindness to his animal warriors to defeat the ogres.
From this very standard origin the 1942 movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle was created. Unlike the Sazanami or National Diet version the movie lacks the beginning of the tale, showing Momotaro already leading his very modernized army against oni. From there, the movie shows the multitude of animals having fun, being goofy, and getting ready for the attack on the red oni army. When they began their attack you’ll notice there is a striking resemblance of the oni army to the pictures of pearl Harbor. To reinforce this idea very Hawaiian slide guitar is played right before the bombing occurs. After the bombing we see multiple caricatures of American forces being drunken and cowardly, and Momotaro’s army wins with no casualties and a happy musical number.
In portraying the American forces, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle also makes an interesting decision to include a caricature of Bluto from Popeye in the picture. In using Popeye they’ve created a way to identify the enemy is most definitely American. By making Bluto a drunk they assert America is slovenly and worthless, compared to the superior non drinking, cute animal army of Momotaro’s forces. Bluto also waves the stars and stripes off a almost American flag, turning it into a giant white one which he waves to try and stave off the destruction. Again the use Bluto as a portrayal of drunken, cowardly American forces makes the contrast between the armies that much more severe.
In Comparison, all the Japanese forces are cute animals, by making them present war as a near acceptable thing to have. Since it’s only cute cartoon characters shooting super realistic weaponry its not as bad as presenting the near human Bluto trying to stave off the cute smiling animals. Another note is that Momotaro himself doesn’t commit an act of war in the film, while he plans and acts as leader for the operation, he doesn’t kill, nor pilot a plane for war, leaving all of the actual atrocities to be commuted by the cute animals. This could be interpreted as the filmmakers own idea as to Emperor Hirohito’s position in the war, being that Momotaro’s gear looks very regal and dress like in comparison to the practical jumpsuits of the animals, it could be a way to make the Emperor come off better in the light of the Japanese public, though Momotaro doesn’t hurt anyone in the text either.
As a tool of propaganda, the film creates the illusion that destruction for the behalf of the near emperor like Momotaro makes it all okay, and that the consequences of such acts are not severe, and that it can even be fun (As shown through the numerous scenes of the childlike animals goofing off over and over again). Showing the drunken Bluto as a large ugly caricature of American culture makes it easy to root against the dying soldiers, and by injecting a small loss (that of a bomber plane with some of the animals in it) we are given a reason to hate the antagonists despite there never being any real danger in the film.
By utilizing a beloved childhood figure in the propaganda, the filmmakers create a sense of bonding with the heroes before the film even starts. In America characters like Daffy duck, and Captain America were used as propaganda tools to poke fun at the opposing forces to give the same sense of superiority that the Momotaro films gave the Japanese. In the early days of cinema, Children and parents alike would flock to watch films starring their favorite cartoon characters, by using popular characters as a mean of creating a more positive image of the war effort, there becomes a strong bond between the viewers of the film. There exists both an attraction to the film itself, as well a sort of projection between the viewers and the cute little animals (in Momotaro’s sea Eagle this is shown by the crowds of plain looking creatures which resemble the crowds of Japanese) making it easy to unite yourself with Momotaro since you and the creatures are so much alike. This is also helped by having the film be mostly bereft of dialogue, making it easy to insert yourself as one of the countless animals without a voice.
The lack of a voice is also interesting because in the Sazanami version of the myth the different animals have there own dialogue and motivations for joining Momotaro. The monkey out of loyalty, the dog out of fear of Momotaro, and the bird due to Momotaro’s admiration of his flying abilities. In each case they are rewarded with millet dumplings, and they are all totally sub servant to Momotaro. Eventually they all annihilate the ogres, and they do so only with Momotaro’s planning, as Momotaro never kills a single person in the tale, as this aides the seemingly high wisdom that Momotaro has gained after being raised by the old couple in the mountains. The animals never once speak about having to kill countless enemies, and the idea of death is never discussed. This allows one to emerge yourself in the story, Momotaro’s lines are always of saving japan, or of peace between the animals. This paints him a person only looking for the best in the Japanese, and that is a near universal thought in the heads of Japanese people, especially in the post world war one scenario.
Besides the animals lacking a voice, the placement of the enemy is very important to the myth of Momotaro. In the Sazanami version, the ogres live on their own private island. In the Momotaro’s Sea Eagle they live in a very close approximation of Hawaii (complete with a slide guitar intro to complete the allusion). Both of these places bear resemblance to those accused of spreading ideas to Japan, with Ogre island being a loose representative of china, and Pearl harbor being approximated in animation. While Ogre island might not have been intended to be China, the lack of good will to their neighbor is still a commonplace in the text. With war between the two countries dating back as long as travel between them was established, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assert that the xenophobia attributed to the ogres could also be attributed to the Japanese’s feelings towards the Chinese in the mid 18th century.
I also find it interesting that despite the numerous amount of animosity towards other countries, the food that unites the animal creatures is Millet dumplings. Dumplings are kind of a universal food, many other countries eat them (including, Nepal, Indonesia, Korea, and of course China) and they’re not overtly complicated to make. Yet, its dumplings that makes the animals loyal to Momotaro, and its Dumplings that are used as a reminder of home for the soldiers. The fact that dumplings are used as motivation to annihilate the seemingly Chinese allusion soldiers is deeply ironic, and it says something about the use of the myth in terms of war, and animosity towards foreign lands, the fact that Momotaro requires the help of entirely different species of animals to aid him in his quest, yet the film is being used as a vehicle to justify the annihilation of same species lives is satire in a very pure form.
In conclusion, I want to state that the use of Momotaro as a propaganda should be looked down upon. Using childhood characters to inspire feelings of hatred toward those different from yourself is wrong, and using a myth that should stand for the importance of justice in a child’s upbringing as a weapon is especially heinous. By using nameless, voiceless characters as symbols for the millions of Japanese fighting in WW2 Momotaro was used as a reasoning behind the near godlike status the Emperor had achieved, and the peasantry the est of the country was forced to. All in all I find it dismaying that Momotaro was used to build a community of hate, instead of one of learning and respect.