Author Archives: hodairani

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.

 

Momotaro’s Sea Eagles: The Cute and Not So Cute

Mitsuyo Seo’s animated film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, is a literary adaptation of the popular Japanese folklore Momotaro. This wartime propaganda film depicts the character, Momotaro, as the leader of an army of animals who possess the ultimate goal of defeating an army of demons. Through the film’s portrayal of Momotaro’s army of animals as cute and adorable, the director of the film is able to appeal to a younger audience in an entertaining and comical way and, as a result, help to dispense the realities of war while making the subject matter more accessible.

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The monkey laughs at his fellow soldier as he struggles to put on his hachimaki.

The depiction of Momotaro’s army of animals is undoubtedly successful in making the film enjoyable and entertaining for children. They are cuddly in appearance, and are constantly smiling and having a good time with one another. The animals do not appear to be at all intimidating and murderous, thus allowing young audiences to be drawn to them. The way the animals behave is childlike and amusing, even in the midst of preparation for war. In a scene where the animals are preparing to attack the demons of Demon Island, one of the bunnies struggles to put on his hachimaki and is laughed at by a fellow monkey soldier. This scene clearly serves to downplay the seriousness of war due to the juxtaposition of a scene of war preparation with jest on the part of the monkey. This scene also allows a respite for young audiences to be entertained by the fun that the animal soldiers are having together.

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The leader of the demon army obnoxiously drinking a bottle of alcohol.

There is a striking contrast between how the two armies are presented in this animated film. The demons of Demon Island are portrayed as extremely clumsy and disorganized. The leader of the army is an overweight, disgusting looking man who runs around wildly when Momotaro’s army attacks. He resembles the fictional character Bluto, Popeye’s nemesis in the popular animated cartoon series. Young viewers familiar with Bluto’s character may have an immediate bad first impression of him, recognizing him as the popular villain. In the middle of the attack, he begins to obnoxiously consume alcohol. This creates a rather ugly, yet amusing image of the demon army. It is clear that they are not at all prepared for war and lack the skills that Momotaro’s army bears. This scene is humorous and young viewers can laugh at the expense of the demon army and their leader, further downplaying the seriousness of the attack and the reality that their lives are at risk. Through the contrast between the likeable, smart animals of Momotaro’s army and the unintelligent, oafish demons of Demon Island, young viewers are able to immediately identify Momotaro’s army as the “good” side and the demons as the “bad”. Momotaro’s army is meant to represent the Japanese army, while the demons they aim to defeat represent the American army. Moreover, Japan is depicted as “good and “righteous”. Through making the material less serious, it serves to function as an indoctrination tool for young viewers through the depiction of the Japanese army as likeable characters.

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The monkeys of Momotaro’s army climb on top of one another to reach the airplane above.

The director of Momotaro’s Sea Eagles not only depicts Momotaro’s Japanese soldiers as juvenile and innocent, but as knowledgeable and skillful. Throughout the film, the animals are playful, yet constantly aware and competent. They act quickly and are extremely sharp. In a scene where Momotaro’s army is preparing to attack the demon army, the monkeys playfully climb on one another, forming a ladder, to get on the plane so that they may depart. This is a comical and clever way for them to board the plane that is going to taking them to site of the attack. As in the previous scenes, this scene is effective in creating a playful atmosphere in the midst of a serious war. In addition, it shows how brave the monkeys are; they are so confident in their abilities to fight that they are able to behave in a way we can reasonably presume is how they behave under normal, non-warlike circumstances. Even though Momotaro’s army is attacking the demon army, the viewers, especially young ones, cannot help but form a loving connection toward the animals and their mission.

Through the use of adorable and accessible animals to represent Momotaro’s Japanese army, Mitsuyo Seo is successful in making his animated film a propaganda film fit for younger viewers. Momotaro’s Sea Eagles is able to take war as a series of violent acts, to an entertaining spectacle with which young viewers can easily connect and enjoy. Young viewers are not exposed to the cruel realities of war in this film, and are therefore drawn to the animals of Momotaro’s army. Thus, it is clear that the effect of the film is to give a positive image of Japan, devoid of cruelty and violence. This film does not inform viewers of the realities of war, but rather, the biased, purported reality of the infallibility of the Japanese army.

Sexualization and Feminization of Food

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki uses the sexualization of women and the feminization of food as a means of dramatizing the notion of exoticism in The Gourmet Club. In the first sentence of the story, Tanizaki describes the members of the Gourmet Club and how they “…loved the pleasures of the table not a whit less than they loved those of the bedroom” (99).  Here, there is an immediate connection between sexual pleasure and food, a pattern adopted by the author throughout the story to emphasize the dynamic theme of exoticism.

The story introduces the members of the Gourmet Club as men who seek to find new fine foods and flavors. When the men “…discovered some novel flavor, they took as much pride and pleasure in it as if they’d found a beautiful woman for themselves” (99). The sexualization of food in this example shows that the driving force of these men when finding new flavors is to reach an ultimate goal that involves a feeling of pleasure. The feeling of discovering a new flavor of food is akin to that of finding a beautiful woman, as both are “novel”, and provide the opportunity to learn, or “discover” new things about their subject. This relationship between sex and food is an unfamiliar one. In this way Tanizaki is able to draw an analogy between exploring food and a beautiful woman for the first time.

Toward the end of The Gourmet Club, Tanizaki describes a scene to the reader in which the members of the club are taking a look at a menu for the evening. Tanizaki weaves an erotic scene as he writes, “…it takes no great imagination to picture the excitement it aroused when the members of the club discovered [Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style] on that evening’s menu” (138). There is an explicit and immediate relationship between food and sex as the men become “aroused” at the thought of a dish that consists of “…the flesh of a woman, deep-fried as tempura” (138). Tanizaki is feminizing the dish through personifying it as a woman. He creates an image of a woman as an item on the menu waiting to be devoured by the men, should they choose to order her. As in the previous example, there is a sexual relationship formed between the men and their feelings toward food. Food satisfies physical hunger, while sex can satisfy a different sort of physical or even emotional hunger. Tanizaki makes this hunger one and the same. It is an extreme relationship that is key to the story as a whole. The men have an ultimate goal of finding new exotic flavors and the feeling that overcomes them once they accomplish this goal is one of sexual pleasure and arousal.

A common facet of exoticism is tying together the unfamiliar and, in this case, erotic. These examples of the reoccurring relationship between food, sex, and women, embody this aspect of exoticism. One wouldn’t necessarily expect food to be compared to beautiful women. One also wouldn’t expect food to have the ability to induce sexual pleasure and arousal in men. Tanizaki is able to connect food to exoticism through the sexualization and feminization of different foods. This makes this relationship all the more powerful, therefore dramatizing the idea of exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

Tampopo: Food Before Death

Juzo Itami’s 1985 film, Tampopo, tells the story of a widow who receives help from a stranger in improving the quality of noodles she serves in her modest noodle establishment. Itami doesn’t choose to merely focus on this woman’s transformation. He includes various short scenes that are often not related in any way, but include the mention or use of food in various contexts.

One of the scenes in Tampopo takes the audience to the home of a man with a dying wife. The camera follows the man as he rushes home to his family. The man urges his wife to get and up and “do something”, and follows it up with demanding dinner. Despite her weak state, she obliges. She prepares a bowl of rice and the family devours it eagerly. The wife smiles at the sight of her family enjoying her meal, and then dies.

At the start of the scene, the audience is feeling concerned for the future of the family. This feeling is heightened as the scene progresses. The wife is lying limp on the ground and the theme of food makes its appearance when husband tells her to get up and prepare food in a desperate attempt to keep her from dying. As she cooks, the children begin to set the table as though nothing happened, as though their mother had not been laying on her deathbed a moment ago. We catch a glimpse of the role that food has in the family’s daily routine. Food is able to bring the family together and act as a stabilizing force, even in the most stressful times. The husband demands his wife to make dinner in an attempt to again bring forth the sense of routine and togetherness that he knows cannot be maintained if his wife passes away.

Wife smiling as her family eats the last meal she prepared for them

The frame I’ve chosen from the scene encompasses the sincere happiness that providing food for someone can bring. The woman’s husband messily stuffs the food in his mouth telling his wife how delicious it is. The camera closes up on the wife’s face. The smile she has is genuine and she looks nothing but happy to see that her family is enjoying her meal. With this, Itami is successful in not only touching the audience, but showing the ability of food to form a connection between people. Just the sight of her family enjoying her food has made her smile before her death. The children and husband begin to cry, but the husband tells the kids to eat the meal while it’s hot because it’s their mother’s last meal. It is strange to see that the husband seemingly is more concerned with the food than his dead wife, but the meal symbolizes the last stable moment the family will likely have together before they have to confront the realities of the wife’s death. The food prepared by their mother holds significance in that it was the last thing she provided for them; it is what brought them together.