Momotaro and Minamata

Momotaro is a Japanese folk character. In the folk tale, he was born of a peach floating in water. An Old Man and an Old Woman bring him up. When he becomes fifteen years old, he, together with a spotted dog, a monkey, and a pheasant, goes to the Orges’ Island to defeat Orges and save those islanders. In the movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Momotaro is a commanding officer of an aircraft carrier. The troops succeed in the conquest of Demon Island by bomb attacks. In both the folk tale and the movie, Momotaro is not alone; he develops a community of his followers to support himself in the attack. Food is a tool used by to unite “people” in a common struggle.

In the Momotaro stories, food is a symbol of best wishes, responsibilities and trust in the development of community. In the folk tale, Momotaro has three followers – a spotted dog, a monkey and a pheasant. Momotaro forms his own troops by giving each of his followers half of a millet dumpling made by his parents. The homemade millet dumplings are a symbol for the wish of returning home. Momotaro’s parents made him those millet dumplings and expect him to win the war and come back home safely. By sharing the millet dumplings with the three animals, Momotaro is sharing the wish of returing home successfully and safely with his followers. Since Momotaro is sent down by the command of the god of Heaven, he has his responsibilities as a child of his parents and also as a leader of his people. He views saving those suffering people on the Orges’ Island as one of his responsibilities. By sharing the millet dumplings with the three animals, Momotaro is sharing his responsibilities for those islanders and his trust with his followers.

The movie shows nothing of Momotaro’s family and depicts him merely as a commanding officer. Momotaro loses his responsibilities as a child and is only left with the responsibilities for his people. Though Momotaro appears to be alone and does not have much communication with the troops, he is still the spiritual leader of the army. Instead of giving real food, he gives an encouraging speech to the animals. His encouragement is the food for his follower’s soul, supporting his soldiers to defeat their enemies. His troops include rabbits, monkeys and pigs. Before the bomb attack, a rabbit gives some food to a pig, conveying her best wishes and trust.

While the folk tale and the movie both use food to transmit wishes and trust, not like in the folk tale where food is a tool to develop followers, in the movie food is passed from one soldier to another, showing the audiences that the soldiers are solidly united. The folk tale depicts the development of community in details while in the movie the community has already formed. Since the movie is derived partly from the folk tale, it is taken for granted for audiences who know the folk tale that Momotaro has developed a community of “warriors”. Without knowing the folk tale, one might feel confused about who Momotaro is and where the troops come from.

Though the Momotaro movie relies on the folk tale, the movie is different from the folk tale in the background of the story and their targeted audiences. The omitted passing food scene in the movie also helps to show the change from a simple folk tale to a military movie. Unlike the folk tale, the Momotaro movie is closely related to reality. In the folk tale, there is no specific description about the space and time that the story happens, but only some description like “Very, very long ago”, “in a certain place”. However, in the movie the Orges’ Island represents the Pearl Harbor. Momotaro leads the troop to attack Orges’ Island symbolizes Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during WII. The movie conveys a strong belief of Japanese people that Japan is going to defeat the United States just like Momotaro defeats the Oni. In other words, the Momotaro movie is to spread Japan’s military thoughts during WII to audiences, particularly children.

As the media changes from folk tale to movie, the targeted audiences also change from everyone to children in particular. Partly based on the folk tale, the Momotaro movie also borrows American animation figures like Bluto, a villain in Popeye stories. He becomes a captain addicted to alcohol in the Momotaro movie, giving audiences an image of irresponsible captain. For people who know the Popeye stories, Bluto has one more image – “a bad guy”. The Momotaro movie uses Bluto to represent the American army in order to show audiences that Momotaro and his troops are going to defeat those bad guys to maintain justice. Since the targeted audiences are children, the movie uglifies Bluto to make children tend to favor Momotaro more.

By sharing homemade millet dumplings, Momotaro develops his own troops. Similarly, in Minamata movie poisonous fish brings the Minamata disease victims together because the chemical factory Nitsuchi refuses to acknowledge its actions of poisoning the sea and causing the disease. In both the Momotaro stories and the Minamata movie, food is a unifier to form communities of voyage. However, the journeys differ in the roles that water plays in Momotaro and Minamata. Water, as the food for life, is an unstable factor since it is affected by human actions.

Momotaro is the leader of the community that he develops while in Minamata the disease is “the leader” that brings the victims together. Momotaro is a waterborne food sent down by the command of the god of Heaven. He rallies his troops to protect humans from Orges. In the Minamata movie, poisonous fish in water polluted by human actions carries Minamata disease. The Minamata disease victims go on a journey to protect themselves. What Nitchitsu does to the victims is equal to what Orges do to the islanders. Orges can be viewed as human actions that destroy the nature and finally harm humans in return.

Since ancient times, water is the place that gives life; water is the food for life. Similarly, Momotaro comes from water and the Minamata disease spread through water. In Momotaro stories water generates lives while in Minamata water destroys lives. “The water that bears the Boat is the same that swallows it up.” Human intervention of the nature turns the water from a “mother” that generates live into a “killer”.

Food helps to unite people with the same goals together to protect other people or themselves. However, food may also become harmful when humans do harm to the nature.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s