Category Archives: Multiforms

Multiforms and Momotarō

Mythological tales and stories remain deeply embedded in oral tradition and written literature because they are pervasive and persistent.  From Japanese folklore originates the story of Momotarō, whose heroic travails against the world’s demons have been detailed since the Edo period of Japan (as early as 1723).  Furthermore, numerous multiforms, or variations, of the original folktale have materialized since its conception including Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy and the film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo.  By comparing and contrasting these two multiforms, one can not only determine the impact of the similarities and differences have on the fundamental story pattern but also better understand the historical context of each variation.

The historical context of each multiform under consideration must be established. The first multiform to consider is Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, and it was published in 1894 during the Meiji era, a period in which Japan began to emerge as a modernized nation.  This particular multiform essentially follows the fundamental story pattern of the original but deviates in its loss of erotic elements; it becomes a story much more suited for adolescents.  The second multiform under consideration is Seo Mitsuyo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi.  Produced in 1942, the animated film was released in 1943 as propaganda.  The animation strays from both the original and the first multiform under consideration mainly with its modern setting, ship vessels, and aircrafts.  However, it does not stray far from the basic plot of the original folk tale; the protagonist Momotarō still defeats his enemies at Onigashima (Demon Island or Ogre Island) with the assistance of his animal companions.  One must recognize that the two multiforms under consideration originate from distinguishable periods in Japanese history; Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy came during the rise of modern Japan in the Meiji era, while Momotarō no Umiwashi was conceived in the wake of Japan’s military strikes on Pearl Harbor.

In order to better highlight the impact of the differences found within the two multiforms, the principle similarities must be established; specifically, they follow the fundamental story pattern of the folktale of Momotarō.  First, the two multiforms both have a youthful boy named Momotarō as the main protagonist.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the “name of ‘Peach-Boy’” (Iwaya 16) is explicitly given to the protagonist, and he is aged at “fifteen years old” (Iwaya 16) at the commencement of his journey.  Peach-Boy derives from the English translation of Momotarō.  Seo’s film never explicitly labels the boy as Momotarō, but the viewer implicitly identifies the name in the title of the animation, Momotarō no Umiwashi.  In addition, Momotarō carries the appearance of that of a young boy and speaks with the voice of an adolescent.  Both multiforms share similar protagonists.  Momotarō’s animal companions (or subordinates) compose the next feature from the fundamental story pattern that the two multiforms share.  Momotarō holds three types of animals under his command in Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy; these “The Spotted Dog” (Iwaya 26), “The Monkey” (Iwaya 27), and “The Pheasant” (Iwaya 30).  Seo’s version of the multiform includes a multitude of creatures in the service of “Captain” Momotarō (Seo).  Including dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits, the animals serve in Momotarō no Umiwashi to place the animation in accordance with the second principle feature.  The final shared feature between both multiforms is that the protagonists of each have common enemies.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, Peach-Boy intends to “wage war against” (Iwaya 19) those at “Ogre’s Island” (Iwaya 19), while in Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi, Captain Momotarō leads his forces to “attack Demon Island” (Seo).  Although the translations differ amongst the two multiforms, the target is the same – enemies at Onigashima (Demon or Ogre’s Island).  Both multiforms of the folktale follow the fundamental story pattern.

The first multiform under consideration must be placed into its historical context.  Iwaya’s Peach-Boy has humble beginnings.  He is “sent down…by the command of the god of Heaven” (Iwaya 16) to “an Old Man and an Old Woman” (Iwaya 9) and born from a “peach split suddenly in half” (Iwaya 15).  However as earlier stated, Iwaya’s multiform removes the erotic elements of the original in which Momotarō comes from aftermath of intercourse between the elderly couple and the Old Woman’s return to youth after eating a peach.  The changes in Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy transforms the original folktale into a story more susceptible to children; in turn, this transformation into a children’s story allows Iwaya’s multiform to become a learning source for building a strong national character – in line with the Meiji era and Japan’s rise as a modern nation.  In addition, Peach-Boy’s manners with his parents become an example for the adolescents who read the first multiform under consideration.  Before departing on his journey, Peach-Boy respectfully thanks his adopted parents.  He remarks that their kindness “has been higher than the mountain from which you cut grass and deeper than the river in which the washing is done” (Iwaya 17), and he begs his Old Man to “bid farewell” (Iwaya 18).  This scene demonstrates good behavior perhaps for those who have come of age.  In Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the reader must also recognize the method by which Peach-Boy acquires his animal companions.  He recruits them one after another as he travels the different terrains of Japan.  After meeting Peach-Boy with agression, the spotted “dog of the woods” (Iwaya 23) joins him after hearing his name.  Later, the “Monkey of [the] Mountain” wishes to accompany Peach-Boy (Iwaya 27), and “as they were crossing a moor” (Iwaya 28), the pheasant is made into a subordinate.  Peach-Boy travels actual terrain, and as he travels through Japan, he is either met with aggression or respect; this is akin to the folktales’ origins in the Edo period because it is almost as if he is uniting daimyos of different regions.  With every new ally, he also gives each half of one of “the best millet dumplings in Japan” (Iwaya 25).  The millet dumplings play a nationalistic role in this multiform – food to reaffirm that camaraderie is earned, cultivated, and homegrown.  In its historical context, Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy is a children’s story from the Meiji era for building and teaching a strong national character with roots in the feudal Edo era.

The second multiform under consideration must now be placed into its historical context.  Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi abandons the backstory behind Momotarō, and instead commences with his armed animal army already in his command.  This resonates with the fact that at the time of the film’s production, Japan was already a unified nation at war.  The story did not exactly need Momotarō’s humble beginnings to create a unifying theme as Japan as a country was already a power.  It must also be stated that the cartoon is clearly propaganda for children.  The animals are cute and even includes an additional species amongst them compared to the original and first multiform – bunnies with long ears.  Cartoony music accompanies these characters in the background. The animation and non-diegetic sound in the film are both playful, but the film still maintains a tone of nationalism by incorporating Japanese elements.  Many of the animals sport hachimaki head scarves with the red sun, and the koinobori (carp streamers of Japan’s Children’s Day) seen throughout the film attach feelings of connection for Japanese children.   In addition, Momotarō no Umiwashi also loses the millet dumplings that once cultivated the relationships between Peach-Boy and each of his additional companions, but the characters are already homegrown.  The audience must also acknowledge Seo’s choice of antagonist in the film.  At Onigashima, the “demons” appear as Western men dressed in sailors uniforms.  In its historical context, Momotarō no Umiwashi is absolutely film propaganda for children to justify what happened at Pearl Harbor and, like the first multiform, to build a strong sense of nationalism.

In conclusion, the story of Momotarō remains as one of Japan’s most pervasive and persistent folktales, and as the multitude of multiforms have manifested over time, it has become a lesson-teaching and national pride-building story for children.  Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy (1894) employs the folktale as an example for children to build a strong national character, coinciding with the emergence of Japan as a modern nation.  The animated film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo also uses the folktale to build national pride, but it also depicts World War II themes in order to justify Japan’s actions at Pearl Harbor.