The Variations of Momotarō’s story

          The story of Momotarō was a Japanese folktale from Edo period. Momotarō was a boy who was inside a giant peach and was found by an old lady. The old lady brought Momotarō home and raised him up with his husband. After Momotarō grew up, he asked to leave since he needed to go to the Ogres Island to save the inhabitants there and to get the taken treasure back. On his way to Ogres Island, Momotarō met a monkey, a dog and a pheasant. They became friends and those animals helped Momotarō beat ogres. Eventually, with the three animals’ assistance, Momotarō beat those ogres, took treasure back and made it home. The story of Momotarō depicted through different texts, films, animes, and illustrations. For example, Iwaya Sazanami did the rendition of the original one and Mitsuyo Seo made the film called Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, which was a Japanese animated propaganda film. Featuring the “peach boy” and his animal friends in the original story of Momotarō, both Iwaya Sazanami and Mitsuyo Seo’s works were aimed at children. Momotarō’s Sea Eagles was about the captain Momotarō and his animal friends got together, fight against the demons in the island of Onigashima. Comparing and contrasting the original Momotarō’s folktale, Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition and the animated film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō’s Sea Eagles had transformation on themes and characters, and had some subjects that were extracted from the original folktale. With these variations, Momotarō’s Sea Eagles obtained some elements from intertextuality, used film as a new medium, and conveyed a different story based on the traditional story of Momotarō.

            One of the most apparent variations in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles was the character. In original Momotarō’s story and Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition, Momotarō only met a dog, a monkey and a pheasant while he was going to the Ogres Island. They became friends and at the same time Momotarō got his authority. The three animals helped Momotarō beat ogres. There weren’t any other animals in original story. However, in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, there were groups of animals, such as monkey group, dog group, and bunny group. Compared to the original one, the rendition one, in this animated film, single animal turned into animal teams. The increasing number of animals showed that the relationship between Momotarō and animals had been developed, and Momotarō’s authority had been built up over time as well.Image

Monkey teams in Momotarō’s Sea Eagles

          The major themes in original Momotarō’s story and in Momotarō’s film were similar, but they had been slightly changed in the movie. In original Momotarō’s story and Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition, one of the major themes was Momotarō’s purpose to go to the Ogres Island. Knowing that those ogres did harm in Japan and took inhabitants, Momotarō decided to save this country and people living in this country. In Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, the naval unit, which included captain Momotarō and animals, attacked the demons at the island of Onigashima. Even though both the original story and the film focused on fighting together for a common goal, the film was based on a real historical event, attack on Pearl Harbor. That is to say, the onigashima represented America. On the contrary, the original story wasn’t a dramatization from other stories so the Ogres Island was not relevant to other places. 

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Pearl Harbor in Mitsuyo Seo’s version 

           Other than the differences of main themes of each story, the time that each story took in were different. The time period when the film was made was wartime. Therefore, the film had a real life context. The movie Momotarō’s Sea Eagles and Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata have historical background (World War II) and both of them imply an antiwar message. They include the description of World War II time period since they want to inform that because of war, people lost their families and were suffering a lot. The purpose of having some real life contexts in the film was to get audiences’ attention and educate young generation about historical events. On the contrary, the time when the original story took place was a while a while ago, when there was nothing special happened. Under that circumstance, readers didn’t get the feeling that the story happened with a historical background that they were familiar with.

            Furthermore, the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles obtained some elements that were from intertextuality. For instance, there was a rabbit semaphores scene. A rabbit used its ears to send semaphores information. In other stories, including the original story, animals also had specific skills that they could use during the battle. Besides, there was also a scene in which those monkeys were lined up and this showed that monkeys were agile. In other stories, monkeys always gave audience an impression that they were flexible and were good at jumping up.

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This bunny uses its ears to send semaphores information

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Monkeys line up to perform teamwork

             In the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, there were definitely some subjects that were extracted from the original folktales. For example, in original story, “team work” was expressed through the relationship between Momotarō and his animal friends and through the fight between them and ogres. When Momotarō first time met the dog, the dog was about to eat Momotarō’s food, but after knowing that Momotarō was travelling for the sake of this country, he decided to follow Momotarō and help him to fight demons. And then, Momotarō met monkey and pheasant in a similar situation and they built up a team. Until this point, all of them had a common goal, which is to conquer the Ogres Island. After Momotarō and his friends finally made to Ogres Island, “ogres though that the enemy consisted of a single pheasant, but when the other two animals came suddenly leaping in, the ogres fought desperately to drive them out.” (36) This description also showed that how Momotarō and three animals performed the teamwork. In the film, the “teamwork” was also considered as the very important subject. At the beginning of the movie, those animals were playing around. However, after receiving the captain (Momotarō)’s order, they got together and lined up immediately. Besides, during the battle, when Momotarō asked them to fire the bombs, they all did what they were asked to. This portrays how the idea of teamwork was expressed in the movie.

            Other than that, the subject of “homeland” had been extracted as well. In the original story, an old lady and an old man raised Momotarō up. Though Momotarō didn’t have parents, for him, the old lady and old man were his parents. Therefore, when he decided to leave home and go to the Ogres Island, he promised that he would come back. As he promised, after he beat all ogres and got treasure back, he returned home. “The old man and old women had been waiting anxiously for Peach-Boy’s return, and their joy needs no description!”(39) This shows that in traditional Japanese folktale, the subject of “homeland” was always one of the main themes in story setting. In the movie, the elements of parents had been removed and Momotarō’s family background was not portrayed either. But, the subject of “homeland” was still able to seen in the movie. After Momotarō and his animal friends had finally beat demons from the island of onigashima, they started to get back home. In the audiences’ viewpoint, the homefront can be considered as the variation of home.

            One more important element that was extracted from the original Momotarō’s story was the consumption of food. In original Momotarō’s story, the millet dumplings played an important role. They connected three animals with Momotarō together. When Momotarō first met the dog, in the beginning, the dog wanted to grab the millet dumplings and threaten Momotarō away. However, after the dog felt the august of Momotarō, he started to be willing to follow Momotarō. Then, Momotarō gave the dog half of his millet dumpling. Later when Momotarō met other two animals, he gave them half of millet dumplings as well. In this story, the millet dumplings work as the unifier, which formed a community between Momotarō and three animals. The dumplings could be considered as payment that Momotarō offered three animals in exchange of their assistance. In the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, the millet dumplings appeared but for different uses. In the movie, when two animals were consuming the millet dumplings, food was portrayed as war rations. Differently, for the same element food, in Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata, the food wasn’t showed as a positive element. It was the tainted food that causes the Minamata disease. Food was portrayed as a negative element.

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Food was portrayed as war rations.

         In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotarō’s story, the film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles and some other films, texts and illustrations, some themes, elements that were similar. For example, how Momotarō got his authority, and how he developed his leadership. At the same time, there were some variations of themes and elements in different texts and medias such as the use of food, the time period, and the setting of each story. After the original Momotarō’s story had been depicted through different mediums, the different versions of Momotarō stories, used their own ways to convey variety of meanings, which make readers and audiences to think about.

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