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Intertextuality/Intermediality Paper

Jap 70 – Intertextuality/Intermediality Paper:

Professor McKnight; Discussion 1A

Michelle Embury




Momotarō, one of Japan’s most iconic folklore characters, appears in many textual and medial works around throughout Japanese history. Each rendition of Momotarō conveys the story differently. Perhaps most interesting among these differences is the relationship between Momotarō and the animals. In Sazanami’s and Tsuchimoto’s respective renditions of Momotarō, Momotarō represents a figure who unites all, but the way that he is represented as a leader is unique to each work. In Sazanami’s written rendition of Momotarō, the animals originally have some form of rivalry and tension amongst themselves, but are united by their loyalty to Momotarō and the obedience he demands. Momotarō’s authority and strong sense of bravery are emphasized through his interactions with the animals in the story. However, in Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, the animals already get along well enough independent of Momotarō. He still acts as a uniting figure as their commander of armed forces, but the film focuses mainly on the soldiers and their story in battle. The role Momotarō takes on in different works of art speaks to his national prestige and reputation.


Sazanami’s interpretation of Momotarō follows Momotarō and the animals he encounters upon his journey to defeat the ogres. Such events project Momotarō’s influential and courageous qualities, establishing him as an influential figure in Japanese youth culture.While on his journey to find the ogres, Momotarō encounters the Lord Spotted Dog. After receiving an unfriendly greeting from the dog, Momotaro “laughs mockingly” (23) and states: “‘I, myself, will cut you in half from your head downwards!’” (24), if the dog wouldn’t let him by. Momotarō’s response to the dog’s threat allows him to demonstrate his authority over the animals. At this point, the dog “suddenly put his tail between his legs” and says that if “[Momotarō] will command [him] to be [his] humble servant, to accompany [him], [he] shall be grateful for [his] fortune” (24). Putting his tail between his legs shows the dog’s deference for Momotarō and suggests that he clearly understands Momotarō’s abilities and powers. Referring to himself as a “humble servant” that would be “grateful” to accompany Momotarō on his quest to defeat the ogres illustrates the dog’s loyalty and respect. Each animal that comes into contact with Momotarō offers his or her complete allegiance – the Lord Spotted Dog; the Monkey, who wants to be Momotarō’s “humble servant” (26); the Pheasant, who “offers [his] formal surrender” (31). The animals see Momotarō as an admirable, commanding figure, bringing justice to the land.


Although the animals pledge an unwavering allegiance to Momotarō in the story, their relationship with each other has a rockier beginning. Momotarō must bring the peace and force cooperation among his comrades. For, “The influence of a great General is a wonderful thing! From that time forward, all three animals were the best of friends and obeyed Peach-Boy’s commands, heart and soul” (32). Momotarō serves as the common link to all animals and enforces support and harmony amongst them all. In Sazanami’s interpretation of Momotarō, Momotarō demonstrates certain qualities of strength and courage to be instilled in the youth of Japan.


In Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Momotarō holds a completely different role – although he still brings solidarity amongst the animals, his role is less present than that in Sazanami’s story. Because this film was created as Japanese propaganda during the WWII period, the attention is geared more toward the soldiers – everyday men – and their experience during war. Momotarō appears in the beginning of the film when the animals are running across deck on the battleship to get in line. At this point Momotarō, surrounded by the different animal groups, communicates that they are to besiege the ogres of Onigashima. Through his provision of information to the animals surrounding him, Momotarō establishes himself as the authoritative figure on the ship. However, as he states: “I your captain, will await your return,” the audience realizes that he will not hold a prominent role throughout the film. Instead, the film will focus on the animal comrades and their fight against the enemies. In fact, Momotarō seems to serve mainly as a national symbol within the film – because Momotarō’s a very renowned folktale character in Japan, he’s a figure with which the audience can easily relate. Seeing a character known for his authority and courage provide strategic information about the attack (location, route, status of the soldiers, etc.), allows to audience to be put at ease because of his reputation outside of the film. However, aside from these informational scenes and some random shots, Momotarō doesn’t make much of an appearance.


The film focuses more on the animals and their relations with each other. Tsuchimoto purposely emphasizes the relationship between the comrades to inspire solidarity and support for the soldiers at war. While preparing for battle, the animals tease each other – tickling each other with their tails and laughing at clumsy attempts to put on bandanas – but their interactions are light-hearted and affectionate. As some of the animals board their planes, the soldiers remaining on the ship shake their hands and pray, demonstrating their strong connection and camaraderie. Their support for one another is again illustrated as the rabbits make noise and wave their hats during sendoff of the other animals to battle. The length of this scene endures for a considerable length of time, emphasizing the amount of support and affection amongst the animals. Although the soldiers consist of a variety of animals – dogs, rabbits, and monkeys – their bond is clearly depicted. Because this film was created to instill national pride and unity amongst Japan during WWII, it was important to depict the soldiers in a positive light. Focusing on the happy times and the strong bond between soldiers allows for the audience to create a positive image of their country’s army and actions during wartime.


            Throughout Japan’s history, Momotarō has appeared in many different works in literature and media. Each version of the story has a unique take, oftentimes tailored to serve a certain cause. Sazanami’s folktale of Momotarō follows Momotarō as he journeys to defeat the ogres, focusing on his ease in commanding others and displaying powers of a leader. The main purpose of Sazanami’s folktale is to instill esteemed morals and qualities in the youth in Japan. On the other hand, Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation focuses less on Momotarō as it does on the animals. Momotarō serves as a national symbol, but the animals represent the everyday man – something easily relatable to the audiences at home. For this reason, Tsuchimoto’s film adaptation serves as an effective propaganda piece, expressing national pride and solidarity among the country. Momotarō appears in many different Japanese works, each rendition with a unique stance on his character. Momotarō’s versatility in different works speaks to his prominence in Japanese culture. Although folktales were originally intended for children, Momotarō’s presence in Japanese culture demonstrates the large impact that folklore has on society as a whole. 


Tampopo: Training for the Best


Gun and Goro help Tampopo train to prepare the perfect bowl of ramen. 

Itami’s film, Tampopo, focuses on the fusion of Japanese and Western culture, combining various different genres together to create a “Ramen Western”. This scene follows Goro and Gun as they help both train Tampopo and teach her the art of making ramen.

The mis-en-scene and other directorial techniques employed in this film create a connection to Western movie genres, and ultimately the “Ramen Western”. This scene in particular is comparable to Stallone’s Rocky Balboa in that both Rocky and Tampopo are everyday figures – underdogs even – who train intensively for ultimate success. The tasks that Goro and Gun present to Tampopo as training mimic the same training process Rocky went through. However, while Rocky trains to fight in the ring, Tampopo trains to prepare the perfect bowl of ramen. Because Tampopo is presented with such an intensive training plan, the audience gets a feel for the satire of Western culture and movies.

 For instance, Goro and Gun are both costumed in cowboy hats and long-sleeve collared shirts – the stereotypical Western getup, which establishes the influences and ultimate satire of Western culture. The connection to Rocky Balboa is once again brought up as we see Tampopo dressed in track clothing – much like the attire Rocky would wear while training for the boxing ring. Compositionally, the camera switches off between facial close-ups and Tampopo’s hands as she prepares the ramen bowls. The facial close-ups allow the audience to better grasp the intensity and concentration dedicated to the art of ramen. The close-up shots of Tampopo’s hands preparing each ramen bowl intensify the noodle-making process. The intensity and deep concentration – overall exaggerated emotions – shown on the characters’ faces provides the audience with the satire of the West.

Many of the directorial choices made in this scene revolve around the idea of time and urgency. Such intensity of the training scene imitates that in Rocky Balboa and ultimately satirizes Western culture. Much of the scene has been under cranked, speeding up the actions on the screen. While Tampopo portions out ramen noodles to bowls and prepares the soup, the fast motion incites a feeling of chaos and urgency within the home audience. In the screenshot selected, one of the truck men holds a stopwatch, as Tampopo gets ready for her next task. The image of the stopwatch reconfirms and the diegetic sound of the stopwatch’s ticking reconfirms the idea of urgency and time. The ticking gets much louder and faster as faster as the scene progresses, intensifying the moment. Even the transitions between training tasks illustrate the idea of time, as a new scene opens in spiral reminiscent of a clock hand moving around the face. Both classical and marching soundtracks play in the background of the scene, which demonstrates Western impacts upon Japanese culture.

Throughout much of Itami’s Tampopo, Western culture is incorporated into the Japanese culture. Though Itami acknowledges these influences upon Japanese culture, he integrates the West so excessively, providing his own commentary on these influences. The exaggeration allows for the audience to understand more negative aspects of Western influence. Through this film, Itami pushes his audience to contemplate the overall effect of Western influences upon the Japanese culture. 

The Pursuit of Authentic Food

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s “The Gourmet Club” primarily focuses on the gourmet club’s (specifically the Count’s) passion for food. In the beginning of the story, the members of the gourmet club find themselves in a rut, no longer interested in the foods around them, starting the quest for something more adventurous. Throughout the duration of “The Gourmet Club”, Tanizaki draws upon the Count’s persistent – almost addicted – pursuit of authentic Chinese food. The continual search for this food implies that it’s very rare and exotic. However, the extensive, crazed lengths that the Count goes to discover the exotic, it seems Tanizaki asserts, may lead to downfall.

The gourmet club members’ intense desire for food parallels a drug addict for drugs – always needing a more intense sensation to fulfill satisfaction. The narrator displays this idea as he states “cooking was an art, capable of yielding artistic effects that…put poetry music, and painting in the shade” (99). From this passage, the audience realizes food’s elevated status within the club, as it’s been labeled as an art with potentiality to outshine all other art forms. Food is not only something that one eats, but also an art – something that requires and envelops one’s entire soul.

Upon the Count’s discovery of the Chechiang Club, his gluttonous desire intensifies greatly. For, at this club people “enjoy real Chinese food as they listened to that intoxicating music, exactly following the customs of their native land” (111). Again, the audience sees the Count’s pursuit of authentic Chinese food and the traditions they hold. Although it’s very common to the Chinese people, all the food, music, and customs are very “intoxicating” and exotic to the Count. Seeing all the men eating around the club “fill[s] the Count with envy” because he felt “he had never yet known the grand satisfaction that was evident on the faces of these men assembled” (117). Even though the Count is rich in money and has been fortuned the opportunities to try different restaurants, because he has not yet tried the food of this particular restaurant, he hasn’t experienced it all. The Count’s desire for food can never be completely fulfilled, leading him on the mad-hunt for something authentic and exotic.

Once the Count finally has an in to the club and has been given the opportunity to prepare his own meals, he gives a speech to the rest of the members. Here, he states that regarding food, “there’s nothing more to be found that can satisfy us…we must both greatly expand the range of that ‘cuisine’ and also diversify as much as possible the senses we use in enjoying it” (137). Still, even after having discovered authentic Chinese food, the Count is still dissatisfied. He encourages further exploration and diversification to fulfill his gluttonous needs. In the last line of the story, the narrator states: “To all appearances, the members no longer merely “taste” or “eat” fine cuisine, but are “consumed” by it” (139). Tanizaki once again asserts the idea that such gluttonous ways of living and searches for exotic foods may lead to one’s downfall. As the Count and the people of the club try new recipes as “Deep-fried Woman Korean Style” (138), the author warns his audience that such intense desires will lead to madness or something potentially much worse, for they have taken their desires to a whole new, cannibalistic level. The members of the Gourmet Club truly have been consumed by cuisine. 

Momotarō’s Sea Eagle: Propagandizing with Food

Momotarō’s Sea Eagle: Propagandizing with Food 

Mitsuyo Seo’s animated film, Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, tells the story of a naval unit of (commanded by one of Japan’s most popular folktale characters, Momotarō), who fight together and ultimately defeat the demons of Onigashima. Serving as a World War II propaganda piece, the film dramatizes the events of that in the Pearl Harbor attack with the animal soldiers (led by Momotarō) representing the Japanese, and the demons portraying the Americans and British enemies. Multiple instances throughout the film, Seo brings the element of food to the audience’s attention, including: the soldier who eats millet dumplings to prepare for battle, the demon surrounded by beer bottles, and finally the soldiers celebrating their victory with Japanese treats. Through the inclusion of food in the film, Seo clearly distinguishes between comrade and foe, creating strong national pride and unity among the Japanese community.

            The first encounter with food within the film occurs just before the animal troops set off to destroy the demons of Onigashima. One of the monkey soldiers quickly returns to his quarters on the ship to retrieve his sack of millet dumplings before setting off for battle. Providing the monkey with such an everyday food item like millet dumplings allows the audience to easily relate to the animal soldiers, and ultimately the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. Though the monkey could have gone back for any food in the world to bring with him, Seo deliberately chose something easily relatable like millet dumplings in order to create a strong connection between the animal soldiers in the film and the audiences at home. However, the most interesting aspect of the millet dumplings takes place on the plane, just before the animals reach Onigashima. After the monkey eats some of the millet dumplings to prepare for battle, he suddenly seems to have gained strength (seen in his rapidly growing biceps) and courage. Not only do the millet dumplings serve to establish a connection with the Japanese community, but they also seem to have enchanted powers attached to them that will aid the monkey in battle. Through the depiction of such magical millet dumplings, Seo seems to have implied something special and noteworthy about the place that from which they came. In providing Japan such an elevated status within the film, Seo establishes a sense of national pride that brings people together around the country.



            Food is again used and brought to the audience’s attention in efforts to further disgrace and discredit the demons of Onigahima. When the animal soldiers besiege their enemies’ ship, the demons are depicted thrashing around the deck, running against piles of empty beer bottles. The mass number of beer bottles helps isolate them as complete drunkards rather than one who drinks a socially acceptable amount of alcohol. In a sense, the portrayal of the demons surrounded by beer bottles juxtaposes the image of the animal soldiers with their enchanted millet dumplings. Rather than providing the demons with strength and courage to take on their enemies in battle, the beer even further inhibits the men, deeming him completely incoherent and unable to perform any tasks at all. Overall, these men are complete embarrassments to their people – fumbling around on the deck, mumbling incomprehensively, and cowardly seeking refuge from battle. Seo intentionally leaves the demons no redeeming qualities so that he can successfully create a common enemy for his intended audience. The presence of a common enemy justifies all and any violent and less-than pleasant actions taken against them. There is nothing about drunken demons with which anyone could or would want to relate. Therefore, their defeat is interpreted and regarded among the audience as a victory. Through the use of beer in this scene, Seo establishes a common enemy among the people, and in the process, again forms a surge of national unity against this unworthy animated figure.


            Of course, when the animal soldiers defeat the demons of Onigashima, food plays a vital role in their celebratory ritual. When it is announced that the animal soldiers were not only victorious in their battle, but also successful in bringing back every animal unscathed, it’s cause for celebration with drinks and delicious treats. It’s interesting to note also the completely unrealistic outcome of the battle. Though it’s highly unlikely that a side could manage to bring back every last soldier unharmed, the fact that it did happen in the film creates the image of a powerful army, insuperable to demons of any kind. The film probably also minimized the violence and tragedy associated with war as it is a film geared toward a prominently juvenile audience. Seo knowingly incorporated food into the final scene, aware that this aspect of joyous celebration with tasty treats and drinks holds a great appeal to the children. Rewarding the animal soldiers with treats for their success once again offers a situation completely relatable to the viewers. The association with the demons’ defeat with joyous cries, food and drink, and overall happiness reaffirms the fact that this was a victory and the animals are comrades, not foes. The triumphant, celebratory atmosphere not surprisingly brings the viewers together, uniting them under the success of defending their country.


               In Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Mitsuyo Seo constructs a story of animal soldiers battling against the demons of Onigashima in order to adapt the events of Pearl Harbor to a wider audience. Through this propaganda film in full support of the Japanese military and naval units, Seo aimed to unite Japanese society and create a surge of national pride. In the film, food plays a large role in the distinction between comrade (animal soldiers) and foe (demons). Food was specifically chosen as a vehicle for national pride because it’s a commodity relatable to common man – it can communicate the same message to a wide variety of audiences. Rather than showing graphic, gruesome images of war to rally support, the utilization of food in the film works to bring everyone together under a patriotic image.