Category Archives: paper prompts/assignments

The Cove-A Real Life Heist Movie

In the 2009 documentary film, The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos analyzes, questions, and exposes Japan’s dolphin hunting culture. The film serves as a call to action to bring an end to mass dolphin slaughter, to change Japanese fishing practices, and to inform the general public of the atrocities being committed to these animals and the health risks (particularly the increased hazard of mercury poising) associated with consuming dolphin meat. The filmmakers emphasized the secrecy involved in capturing the footage to establish a “spy movie” quality to the movie and, as a result, draw in a wider audience than the typical documentary film fan. However, this secret filming, in combination with the portrayal of the Japanese people, elicited great controversy surrounding The Cove’s release.

Louie Psihoyos undercover

Louie Psihoyos undercover

In the opening scene of the film (featured above) the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, is featured in the passenger seat of a car driving through Japan. He is shown with a medical mask covering a good portion of his face. He then introduces the audience to the secrecy involved in dolphin hunting in Japan and that exposing the industry is illegal. In this way, a sense of civil-duty and urgency is established and Louie Psihoyos places himself and the crew in a position of importance and power. It is also important that Psihoyos addresses the illegal aspect of their mission in this light because it justifies their illegal actions and argues that illegal actions must be taken if the laws being broken are unjust. However, the opening scene is ironic because of the facemask covering Louie’s face; in attempting to expose the dolphin hunting industry, the filmmakers have to cover and hide themselves. The secrecy also establishes a “spy-like” quality to the documentary. The spy movie feeling is further pushed when the footage is presented in green light for night filming, negative effect, and secret-taping footage. This employment of spy genre movie techniques is vital to the success of the documentary because it is able to appeal to a wider audience and makes the dolphin slaughter appear even more corrupt through the establishing of the “forces of good vs. evil.” However, the film techniques used in the making of this movie, such as secret filming, led to much of the controversy that surrounded its release.

Ric O'Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Ric O’Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Another important aspect that led to the success of the film was the personal relationship established between dolphins and humans. The film’s main social actor, Ric O’Barry, discusses his experience with dolphins through his involvement with the Flipper television show. He states that he knows that dolphins are self-aware. This idea is crucial in separating dolphins from other animals like pigs and cows that are also slaughtered for food production. If dolphins are aware of themselves and their surroundings, then they can be viewed as more similar to humans than to other animals and it is then inhumane to slaughter them for meat. This idea is essential in drawing sympathy and compassion on behalf of the dolphins from the film’s audience. The above image of Ric O’Barry in loving embrace with a dolphin epitomizes this concept.

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

This image is taken from perhaps the most important moment in the film. In this screenshot the blood from the slaughter of dolphins is revealed for the first time. The dark red of the blood is significant because it is a visual reminder of just how many dolphins must have been slaughtered and because it is seen in direct contrast with the tranquil blue of the surrounding ocean. This serves as a metaphor that stresses that dolphin slaughter is in direct conflict with nature. It is also important because the presence of dolphin slaughter can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. From this point forward, the audience is forced to decide to answer the film’s call for action and the Japanese people must face this aspect of their culture out in the open. In this way, consumers must consider what they are willing to look past or abandon morally in order to maintain a diet they are accustomed to.

In the creation of a modern day, real life “heist” film, director Louie Psihoyos turns The Cove into one of the most viewed documentary films released in the past 10 years. As a result, a wide audience of once ignorant viewers has been introduced to a serious travesty plaguing the dolphin hunting industry in Japan. The issue is magnified still through the humanization of the dolphins. As a result, the audience must face the harsh realities of dolphin meat consumption and remember the images of the blood-red cove in making future food purchases. In this way, despite the controversy sparked by the questions of morality sparked by secret filming, the film is effective in bringing awareness to a serious issue in today’s food industry and force the audience to serve as the driving force in creating serious change for both the future of the dolphins and of the human race.


The O’Barry Identity

The Cove, directed by Louis Psihoyos, is a documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. By combining what could be two different movies – the history of dolphin meat in Japan and how it exists today versus the director’s activist group planning a daring mission to reveal what happens in modern day Taiji – and making the film just as dramatic as it is educational, Psihoyos shows a black and white world with clear cut good guys and bad guys. But for a film intended to disgust the audience and convince them to take part in ending dolphin killings, it works remarkably well.


1. Ric O’Barry recalls how his dolphin committed suicide in his arms.

One of the most memorable segments of the film is a sequence where Ric O’Barry recounts his experience in the dolphin training industry. He begins by talking about how famous the show he worked on, called Flipper, became and how it created the demand for dolphins at aquariums and birthed a new industry. However, his tale becomes more and more depressing as he talks about how many dolphins are caught and kept in captivity. Eventually O’Barry reveals that the conditions of captivity are what led the dolphin he trained on Flipper to stop breathing and commit suicide in his arms. The film cuts from footage of the dolphin smiling to a crying O’Barry as he tells the story. In the shot, shown above, the two things the audience sees most prominent are his tearful face and the painting behind him of a dolphin. This scene shows exactly what The Cove does so well: manipulate the audience to the side of the activists by including events, as opposed to excluding facts to paint an imperfect picture. The story of Kathy’s death is heartbreaking, and contributes to O’Barry and Psihoyos’ argument that dolphins are intelligent and establishes dolphins as separate from farm animals like chicken and cattle.

An important thing to note is how using Ric O’Barry’s story is similar to using the numerous victims and families of victims of Minamata disease in Tsuchimoto’s Minamta: The Victims and Their World. However, in Minamata the filmmakers chose to portray numerous victims of Minamata disease and their families. This created an image of similarity amongst the affected and how widespread and destructive the disease had become in the community. Psihoyos chose to focus on one man who was personally involved in the events of the film, personalizing the struggle of the filmmakers.

 cove 2

2. The film crew is tailed while driving through Taiji.

Another element that brings pathos to the forefront in allying the audience with the filmmakers is the thriller-like aspects of their time in Taiji. As soon as they start driving through the town, they are tailed by cars simply because Ric O’Barry is in the car with them. The director is even told that one of those following him and the crew is the local Chief of Police. By showing the town as a faceless antagonist similar to films like The Wicker Man or even They Live, where anybody in the town could be out to get the protagonist, it makes Taiji seem like an evil place that only exists in films or other stories. The nervousness of being in the camera lens, in the car while everyone stares, puts the audience in the filmmakers’ uncomfortable shoes and establishes that the audience and the filmmakers are enemies to the town of Taiji.

 cove 3

3. Ric O’Barry stands ground against the IWC during their meeting.

The climax of the film features Ric O’Barry crashing a meeting of the International Whaling Commission with a screen showing the footage of dolphin slaughter that the filmmakers took in the titular cove in Taiji, Japan. This scene is especially effective and memorable because as opposed the faceless entity of Taiji, there is a clear enemy in the IWC. The film shows several times the face of the Japan’s representative in the IWC and oftentimes cuts to him against stories of the ignorance and passivity of the IWC in preventing the killing and consumption of dolphin. This is The Cove’s version of the good guy facing the big bad in the climax of the film, with the protagonist ending the duel in triumph. Now, obviously this is more low-key than say, a fist fight on a rooftop, but it’s still made dramatic by the filmmakers through the composition of the scene. The camera follows O’Barry and we see him, the guy who saw his beloved dolphin commit suicide in his arms, standing there simply showing everyone what they have allowed to happen.

Momotaro: Unity through Food and Common Knowledge

Momotaro (1938), the story of the Peach Boy, is a Japanese folktale that has been retold and passed down through generations. It is about a young boy who appears from a giant peach and is taken under the care of an old couple who lived by the mountains. The couple named the boy Momotaro, translated as Peach Boy, and raised him as their own child. At age 15 Momotaro journeys through the sea with his companions, the dog, the monkey and the pheasant, towards the land of Ogres and wages war against them to protect the people of Japan. Momotaro became a heroic symbol by defeating the ogres, returning all the treasures back home. This classic folktale has been retold such as in Arai Goro’s 1951 abridge picture book version with more visual images to tell the story. Momotaro, once a local figure and turned into a well-known national figure in Japan, has been applied to different situations in order to appeal and unify the masses. In films such as the animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943), a propaganda film regarding Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor, and Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary about the aftermath of mercury contamination on the people, Minamata: The Victims and Their World (1971), both took Momotaro as the ideal leader to galvanize people in partaking in their cause. The use of millet dumpling in the folktale establishes a commonality between Momotaro and his followers which is the catalyst of the development of the relationship between them. It is the consumption of dumplings that provided them with strength to fight and it serves as a contract between Momotaro and his loyal servants. However, it is not only food that creates such unity, but also the use of the folktale in films such as Momotaro’s Sea Eagles and Minamata that impels Japan as a nation to come together. Having something familiar such as the story of Momotaro, reminds people of Japan the values they regard as important and using that to work towards a common goal.

In Iwaya Sazanami’s 1938 version of Momotaro, Momotaro comes across the dog who offers his servitude and asks for a dumpling in return. Momotaro gives it half a dumpling as a payment for accepting the dog’s offer. The same thing happened between Momotaro and the monkey and the pheasant that comes a long his way. He gives them half a dumpling before proceeding their journey together to the Ogre’s Island. This interaction between Momotaro and the animals illustrates the authority Momotaro has over his companions. At first he threatens them of being killed if they get in his way, and later giving them half a dumpling. This establishes a clear distinction of the relationship between all of them, Momotaro being the commander, and the three animals being his loyal servants. The millet dumpling acts as a unifier because by accepting the millet dumpling, they have already agreed to the conditions that they must join Momotaro’s cause. In the 1951 version of this tale, this exchange was excluded from the picture book. Instead it illustrates Momotaro sitting along with the dog, monkey and pheasant, and “shared his millet dumplings” (Arai Goro, 3). Momotaro is depicted as friendlier compared to Iwaya’s version, because in the earlier version a barter takes place between Momotaro and the animals; half a dumpling in return for service. However, in this 1951 version, there seems to have more familiarity with their relationship. The picture book allows its readers to have more freedom in terms of interpreting the images illustrated. Since it can be interpreted in different ways, it is easier to take the story and put it in a specific context. In Iwaya’s version there is no mention of Momotaro physically defeating the ogres. It was his servants, with the orders of Momotaro, who defeated them. On the contrary, in the 1951 version Momotaro is illustrated fighting the ogre (Arai Goro, 4). Even though both stories slightly differs from each other, it is the dumplings that provided them with strength, bringing them all together.

The use of the Momotaro folktale in other media such as an animation film, stimulates a sense of nationality among its viewers who are familiar with the tale. The 37-minute feature film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo, is a propaganda film to support the Japanese home front’s victorious attack on Pearl Harbor during the WWII in December 1941. Targeted to a younger audience, the film uses Momotaro as Japan’s hero against the Americans because it is a character that children recognize. It can be seen that the soldiers are cute, delicate little critters that are generally loved by children, making it easier to appeal to them. For this reason, Momotaro and his army naturally becomes the good guys and whoever opposes them are the bad guys. Similarly, Momotaro whose built and voice is still very much like a child, still exudes bravery and competent leadership thus influences its younger viewers’ perspective in that they too, like Momotaro, can have the power to lead a nation like Japan. Being unfamiliar with the folktale may not necessarily hinder someone from understanding the film’s plot, but perhaps familiarity with it can bolster the sense of nationalism. Assuming that the viewers of this film are all familiar with the context of Momotaro, it can help unite them simply because of the established knowledge about the folktale. Having a common knowledge and agreement about something can strengthen the unity of a nation. As a result both children and adults that viewed the film may feel stronger towards Japan because it is their national hero, Momotaro, that lead to Japan’s victory. In both the film and Iwaya’s 1938 version, Momotaro embodies the idea of Japan’s emperor. Momotaro possess the characteristics of an emperor, commanding his soldiers and leading his nation to victory. He may have not physically taken part of the war in both text and film, but he oversees what was going on and as shown in the film, as he gives commands to everyone on board, the animals listens attentively with confidence for their leader. The animal soldiers also possess the ideal nationalist ideology; to sacrifice one’s self for the better of the country. By having Momotaro play the role of the leader during WWII, children will want to embody his characteristics and serve Japan.

The film preserves some of the folkloric elements of the tale such as the animals manifested with human qualities. Seo explores these qualities further in the film by showing the dog’s and the monkey’s interactions with each other, such as the scene when the dog and the monkey were playing with jenga on the plane, teasing each other. This comedic relief alleviates tension in what is supposed to be a heavy topic of war. These simple interactions accentuates their human qualities making them that much more relatable to its young viewers. Such display of these qualities influences children to strive for such qualities to make their nation proud. The film also incorporates a well-known character, Bluto, from an American cartoon called Popeye the Sailor Man. Since Popeye was a well-known cartoon show in Japan during that time, children can immediately detect Bluto as the bad guy. Furthermore, one scene shows one of the monkeys eating a millet dumpling, and flexes its arm to show its muscles gained from eating it, similar to how Popeye eats spinach for strength. This reference to Popeye enables children who are familiar with the cartoon, draw a connection that Bluto is the villain, Popeye is the hero. This makes Momotaro’s side the protagonist because his soldiers had to eat dumplings for strength just like how Popeye has to eat his spinach. This boosts Japan’s national unity because there is a common enemy recognized by many. Knowing where the villain originally came from is not essential in identifying who the evil side is, but it helps viewers recognize the connection instantaneously. Moreover, it is good to note that even though the American’s are portrayed as humans in the film, they lack the human characteristics that the animal soldiers possess. It serves as a juxtaposition between the two sides, depicting the Japanese side as more human like and competent during war, naturally making them better than the Americans. The Americans were dehumanize and are portrayed as drunkards to justify Japan’s view that the Americans lacked leadership and are incompetent on defending themselves. In addition, the alcohol consumed by the Americans serves no benefit to them unlike Japan’s dumplings. The overconsumption of alcohol and portraying Americans as drunkards, reiterates the idea that American soldiers lack cooperation with their comrades on board. It is possible that Bluto was used as the ‘leader’ for the American’s side in the film in order to send the message that even though the Americans are big and rugged compared to the tiny animals, they lack the clever wits of the Japanese. No matter how physically strong you are, it is no match against intelligence.

The use of the folktale of Momotaro in different mediums echoes what characteristics and morals the Japanese value. As a folktale, Momotaro is timeless. Its events took place a “very, very long ago” (Iwaya, 9), with no specific location. This allows the story to be transferred to different times, and still be relevant to what is taking place. Going back to the film Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, the application of the folktale in this propaganda film extends Japan’s bushido ideology of honor and bravery. In the folktale, Momotaro and his servants displays the way of the warrior to save the people from the Ogres. These same values are applied during the time of WWII and reinforced repeatedly in the film creating a national agreement of “us versus the other” and sends this message to future generations. A scene from Minamata (1971) directed by Noriaki Tsuchimoto, shows demonstrators of people who were affected by the minamata disease gathered at a train station in Osaka to protest against Chisso Factory. One of the spokesperson alludes to the island where the “blue and red ogres” (Tsuchimoto, 1971) dwell, whom they must confront and defeat. By taking Momotaro and applying it in their cause brings the people together because they each assume the role of Momotaro, and the factory as the evil Ogres. Or perhaps the spokesperson can be seen as Momotaro, and the rest of the demonstrators as the servants, all aiming at one goal. The people voicing out their complaints against the factory enhances our understanding that Momotaro has the values that are important to the Japanese. In order for these demonstrators to succeed they must display the same courage as Momotaro did.

The formation of communities in both Goro’s and Iwaya’s interpretation of Momotaro folktale is rooted from food. The same can be said in Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, where it explicitly shows community building between the animals and juxtaposes it with the lack of community on the American side. By taking this well-known tale and applying it to a real world dilemma in Minamata exposes the injustice faced by its people, and pushes them to come together and fight. The development of small relationships can lead to the growth of bigger communities.

Feasting Together

It is said that a family who feasts together, stays together. For most people, food is seen as a source of energy and nutrition for the body, a necessity of life, but it is also a way for people form bonds others. In most cultures, families and communities come together to eat which establishes a connection between each other because when people share food at the table, they also share stories and experiences which elicits responses of laughter or even sympathy. Being able to connect on a personal level creates unity and a sense of community with others as illustrated by the Momotaro stories of Japan. Momotaro, a Japanese folk legend, leads his trusty squad into quests and battles in order to destroy the enemies that threaten the safety of Japan. In both visual and literary texts, food ties Momotaro and his crew together while also giving them the strength they need to carry on and become victorious in their quests.

In Iwaya Sazanami’s rendition of Momotaro, food represents providence and good fortune for the old couple as well as used as a sign of respect and trust that creates a band of warriors who are loyal to Momotaro and his quest. When the old couple finds Momotaro, he is actually within a peach which happens to be a fruit that is highly valued and often associated with the gods in Japanese folklore. This implies that Momotaro is a blessing from the gods, meant to bring the couple together and to grant them happiness. Although Sazanami never mentions anything about the man and woman having any lack of nutrition, they work very hard so when the peach comes floating down the river, it is a significant event for the old couple becomes it is a reason for celebration and a reward for their work. It makes their life “healthier” in a sense with the appearance of Momotaro in their lives. He is a healthy addition to their lives and is very beneficial to their lonely life because his presence gives them joy and he helps out the old couple in their daily burdens. The old couple is so grateful for Momotaro and his influence on their lives that they willingly let him leave them for his quest to save Japan.

Momotaro begins his journey after the old couple makes him millet dumplings in order to ensure his well-being. Millet dumplings are a material objects that originally were only to serve the purpose of guarantee Momotaro’s well-being but instead they become a symbol of trust and acceptance into Momotaro’s followers. He offers half a millet dumpling to each of his new followers in order to feast with them and create a fellowship with the dog, the monkey, and the pheasant. Furthermore, by offering food to his followers, this situation begins to mimic the parent-child relationship where the parent provides for the child, which, in this situation, makes the three followers his dependents. Throughout the whole book, Momotaro is referred to as “Peach-boy” and even refers to himself as “Peach-boy” reinforcing the idea that he was a gift from the gods as sustenance to the old couple’s lives. After his quest, his role as sustenance is extended to Japan because he helps the country well-being in his victory over the Ogres.

Misuyo Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle reinforces the idea of food as a way to form bonds but chooses to focuses on food as a unifier of Momotaro’s forces rather than an initiation of his followers as his forces head to the Demon’s island to face the enemy. In the film, the troops consume millet dumplings just as Momotaro and his followers did in Sazanami’s story, however, it is a feast among his many troops. Food becomes something to rally behind because it not only creates unity among the troops, but also gives them the strength to conquer the enemy. This is illustrated when one of the monkeys quickly wolfs down a millet dumpling and he suddenly becomes muscular enough to overwhelm the enemy with whom they are in combat with. As a propaganda film that was premiered in the midst of World War II, it paralleled the events that were occurring in the war and influenced citizens to cheer for Momotaro and his troops. Though it was Momotaro’s great leadership that led to the victory over the demons, the millet dumplings were what gave them the ability to do so and thus they are a representation of the strength of the Japanese people in the war. Millet dumplings were something that could be shared by all and creates a sense of camaraderie among the Japanese people and its troops.

Although the Momotaro tales are often associated with a noble journey and a victorious quest or purpose, Tsuchimoto’s Minimata: The Victims and Their World, alludes to the stories as people victimized because of food. Sustenance united Momotaro’s troops yet was the source of problems in Osaka. When people of Osaka consumed the fish of the nearby polluted waters, they also consumed mercury which resulted in a mass of innocent civilians with severe cases of Mercury poisoning. They relate their suffering to the people of Japan by equating their pain with living in “the land where blue and red ogres dwell” in order to convey the devastating the effects of mercury poising that ravaged their city. In alluding to the Momotaro stories with the ogres, the victims illustrate their situation simply because of the familiarity of the Momotaro stories to the Japanese people. This epidemic caused people to unite against the company that had polluted the water, to fight for justice and reparations. Although food caused this plague, it also brought people together to combat injustice and to band together in order to make a difference in the victims’ lives.

Having a sense of community is hard to find in a world that has many enemies and suppressors, but in partaking with others, a bond is formed between people who defend each other. In the Momotaro tales and film, food is a unifier that brings a group of people together to find strength to defeat the enemy as well as a reminder of one’s roots. The millet dumplings become a tie between the troops as they follow Momotaro into war. As for Minimata, the food that the community often shared together was poisoned, and thus, because of food, the people come together to fight the injustice of the big businesses that have polluted their lives. In each context, it is food that influences their actions and their outcome because it is an act of fellowship. Although food gives them strength to overcome the enemy, their victories did not stem from the consumption of food. Rather, it came from their ability to unite because of the personal connection formed in the act of partaking the food together.

Momotaro Plays Hide & Seek: Exploring food and heroism hidden in various texts

The legend of Momotaro has been featured in many films, such as Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World, to help the people of Japan relate to the national crises pertaining to each film.  By utilizing the popular and cherished tale of Momotaro as a common theme, viewers of the film are more likely to grasp a firm understanding of unfamiliar and complex topics, such as war and disease epidemics. As the symbol of strength, bravery, and nobility, Momotaro acts as a role model to children and adults alike, just as superheroes act as cultural icons sought to emulate. In the children’s animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagle the director, Mitsuyo Seo, dramatizes the events of the bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II by utilizing Momotaro as the commanding leader of a crew of devoted animals on mission to defeat their enemies on Demon Island. On the other hand, the director, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, takes various themes from Momotaro and implements them in his poignant and compassionate documentary, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, to illustrate the cruel and unbearable circumstances those affected with Minamata experienced. Momtaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World both integrate ideas from the Momotaro legend, enhancing the similarities and differences in two central themes, food as the source to ignite community unification and the role of a hero to serve moral justice.

In the legend of Momotaro, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World, the primary theme of food acts as a source to bring a community of people together. In the Momotaro folk tale the theme of food is viewed as both an object of consumption and as a symbol of strength and unification. When Momotaro departs for his voyage to Ogre Island his father packs him millet dumplings for lunch. Food is the primary source of fuel for the body, allowing the necessary endurance and power needed to take on arduous tasks. As Momotaro’s journey commences he encounters and befriends a dog, monkey and pheasant, all of which previously did not get along. Each time Momotaro encountered a new creature he offered them a millet dumpling and they immediately sought to become a member of the team.  Eating one of the millet dumplings which acted as a form of pledging their allegiance to Momotaro, and demonstrating how food as commodity acts as a uniting factor of strength, friendship and teamwork.

In a similar manner, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle presents the uniting force of food as a symbol of strength and celebration. For example, after Momotaro commands his troops to depart to Demon Island one monkey fuels up his stomach with a skewer of millet dumplings.

Food is a source of power and strength.

Food is a source of power and strength.

Upon flexing, the bicep muscle of the monkey’s arm immediately enlarges, signifying his gain of strength needed to carry out his mission. Furthermore, when the dog and monkey soldiers return to Momotaro’s naval ship after the completion of their mission the animals rejoice in celebration by eating rice balls. The consumption of millet dumplings and rice balls as simplistic Japanese cuisine expresses the unification and national pride the animal soldiers have for their country.

Food can also act as a symbol of victory and celebration.

Unlike the legend of Momotaro and Momotaro’s Sea Eagle where food is viewed as a positive source of strength and unity, food in Minamata: The Victims and Their World acts as a symbol of poison and death, rather than a necessity for life. Yet comparably, through the negativity of the Minamata epidemic stirs an uprising and unification of a community. In basic terms, the Minamata disease was methyl mercury poisoning. The Minamata disease originated from the Chisso Corporation factory dumping methyl mercury into the ocean, illegally. The carelessness of this factory caused the poisoning of many underwater creatures, which ultimately caused a significant amount of people who consumed the diseased sea life to contract the disease as well.

The Minamata disease cost the lives of many loved ones.

The Minamata disease cost the lives of many loved ones.

Symptoms of those who became affected included the loss of the ability to speak correctly and the loss of the senses. Unfortunately, the disease affected not only the host, but also the victim’s families and loved ones as well. The survivors of the epidemic resulted in a devastating loss of friends and family, but not hope. From the tears and sorrows caused by broken hearts grew rage and the demand for blame and compensation. Through tragedy people are, once again, observed joining together in unison and rising against a common enemy.

Additionally, another theme presented in all three films is the central figure of the righteous hero, and of course the enemy as well. In the Momotaro folk tale, an old couple’s wish is granted when a giant peach drifts down a river. Inside the peach is a boy, Momotaro, whom the couple adopts and raises. Momotaro grows up to be an intelligent and independent leader who embarks on a journey to Ogre Island to defeat the fierce enemy ogres. Upon success, Momotaro transpors gold, silver, jewels and other riches back home to his parents, safe and sound.  Thus, embodying the qualities of a genuine hero.

Likewise, Seo used many similar tactics from the Momotaro legend in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to develop his plotline. For instance, the idea of Momotaro and his team of animals as the undefeatable heroes is a reoccurring theme. Momotaro ranks at the top of the social ladder as the commanding officer of a crew of rabbits, monkeys and dogs. He expresses his authoritative powers by commanding his army through specific tasks, yet unlike the Momotaro folk tale, he never comes face-to-face with physical contact in battle. Additionally, to stay consistent with the historical background of the film, Seo developed the enemy character to drastically juxtapose with that of the heroes. Momotaro and his team of cute animal warriors were depicted

The beer bottle was indicative of excessive drinking, causing American’s to be viewed as the “bad guys.”

as the team of “good guys” saving the Japanese nation from the enemies on Demon Island. However, on Demon Island, the single American soldier was illustrated as a human-like figure with demonic accessories, such as horns, a tail, and a beer bottle at hand, indicative of excessive drinking. Alcohol gave a negative connotation that was frowned upon according to societal norms; hence, the portrayal of American’s as the “bad guys”.  At the end of the film, the members of Momotaro’s force return to the ship safe and sound, just as in the tale. Conversely, in the film Momotaro does not return home with treasures, because the treasure to be gained is the satisfaction of justice served against their enemy ogres.

The hero and enemy roles in Minamata: The Victims and Their World are also portrayed in a contrasting manner to that of the Momotaro folk tale. Where the hero plays the protagonist role in the Momotaro tale, the hero of this documentary is the underdog. The role of the hero in Tsuchimoto’s documentary is a group of common people representing all those who have been affected by the Minamata disease, rather than a single being as in the

This quote makes a direct reference to the Momotaro legend’s fight at Ogre Island.

Momotaro legend. The heroes consist of a community of members who journey abroad to Osaka to fight the “ogres” of the Chisso Corporation factory. In one scene an elderly woman speaks, “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell,” making a direct reference to Momotaro’s journey to Ogre Island in the legend. Contrasting to the compensation of treasure gained by Momotaro in the legend, the heroes of the Minamata community took action not for the sake of their own merit, but to help those that were innocent. As for the role of the enemy throughout this documentary, the audience gets the sense that the Chisso Corporation should be viewed as the “bad guys.” The Chisso Corporation was indeed responsible for the mercury poisoning; however food in general can also be seen as a coexisting enemy.  Consumption of food is what spread of the Minamata disease and infected the lives of innocent beings. As a consequence, the need to rally up the heroes to fight for justice was essential to defeat these enemies, just as Momotaro and his team of animals had on Ogre Island.

By incorporating the tale of Momotaro in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Minamata: The Victims and Their World national anxieties are made more comprehendible for the general public to interpret. As in the Momotaro legend, both films demonstrate that food is factor for community unification and that leadership and justice are characteristics of a righteous hero. As a result, the viewers of these films easily accept the noble and respectful qualities of the characters representing Momotaro, and the wickedness portrayed in the enemy, ultimately providing for a moving documentary and prized animated propaganda cartoon.

Symbolic Food

The traditional folklore of the famous “Peach-Boy” or Momotaro is wildly used in many children’s books and animation. Some of the popular anime have mini episodes where characters reenact the Momotaro story, though not very authentic reenactment. The story about Momotaro is about a boy who is born form a peach and goes off on a journey to defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, with a dog, a monkey, and a pheasant as his comrades, then goes back home to his adoptive parents, and elderly couple, after completing his quest. Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro is a re-telling of the traditional folklore, while Mitsuyo Seo’s animation Momotaro’s Sea Eagle is more of modernized reenactment of the battle in Ogres’ Island. Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata: The Victims and Their World shows a journey very similar to Momotaro’s journey against the ogres, and the film even makes references and the protestors wear a head band similar to Momotaro’s as well. In these three textual/visual media, food serves as a unifier to form communities of family, comradeship, and rebellion because it represents certain emotions that lead to the formation of families, comrades, and resistance. These emotions lead to the formation of communities because these are emotions that bonds people to be together.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro's Journey.

Old Man and Old Woman Making Millet Dumplings for Momotaro’s Journey.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro, food represents love, affection, care, of a family because the motive in giving and preparing food lead to the formation of a family and strengths the relationship in a family. For example, when the Old Woman first sees the large peach she says “I expect it would be very sweet eating! I will go pick it up at once and give it to my Old Man as a present—that will be the thing to do.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.11) In this scene, the peach represents the Old Woman’s love and affection for her husband because her first thoughts are not to keep the peach for herself, but to give to her husband as a gift. This selfless thought of the Old Woman towards the Old Man is called love because when you love someone you will put them before yourself. This love the Old Woman has for the Old Man is precisely what forms a community called family. Also, after Momotaro’s initial meeting with the elderly couple, Sazanami writes “this child came to be brought up as their own, and as he was born from a peach, the name ‘Peach-Boy’ was given to him, and all the care which love could give was given to him.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.16) The peach is in a sense the vessel that brought the Peach-Boy and the old couple together. The peach brought these three characters together to form a family, and without the peach, which gave birth to Momotaro, there would be no son for the Old Man and Woman to love and care for. Therefore, the peach is the unifier to this family because it was the vessel that creates the meeting between Momotaro and the elderly couple. As Momotaro prepares to leave on his journey, the Old Man and Old Woman prepares a “suitable food for a warrior on a journey” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.21), which are millet dumplings. Though the Old Man was surprised by Peach-Boy’s request to go defeat the ogres in Ogres’ Island, the Old Man gives Peach-Boy his blessings and prepares food for him for the trip. The millet dumplings are the result of the Old Man and Old Woman’s hard work because to make the dumplings that had to beat the grains in a big stone mortar, like in the picture above. The Old Man and Old Woman are very old, with the woman being sixty years old, making the millet dumplings must be very difficult for them, yet they make it not for the purpose of feeding Momotaro because if they were worried about Momotaro’s hunger the elderly couple could have given Momotaro some money to buy food. The Old Man and Old Woman made the millet dumplings out of love and wanting to send off their son with a meal made with the love of a parent. Making the dumpling could be the very last thing that the elderly couple can do for Momotaro and with these dumplings are their love and hope that Momotaro will have a safe journey. These dumplings symbolizes this love and wich for Momotaro’s safe return unifies Momotaro, the Old Man, and the Old Woman as a family and solidifying their bond as a family until they meet again.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

Momotaro giving the Spotted Dog, Monkey, and Pheasant each half of a dumpling.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, food symbolizes emotions such as kindness and happiness which unifies a group of individuals into become comrades. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro gives the Spotted Dog “half-a-one” of the millet dumplings the elderly made for him, which he describes as “the best millet dumplings in Japan.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.25) The dumplings in this scene symbolize kindness because Momotaro gave half of a millet dumpling to the hungry Spotted Dog which attacked Momotaro in the first place. Although the Spotted Dog wanted to join Momotaro on his quest before receiving the dumpling, this dumpling solidifies the bond between Momotaro and the Spotted Dog because by sharing a meal together they become friends/comrades, instead of just acquaintances. When Momotaro meet the Monkey, Momotaro said “in consideration of your good intentions, I will give you half of one the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow.” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.28)  The dumpling again represents kindness because though the monkey came to follow Momotaro on his journey, Momotaro gives him half of a dumpling as a sign that he accepts the Monkey as a comrade before answering the Monkey’s request. Momotaro did not have to offer his dumplings to the Monkey, but he did it to show that he accepts the Monkey because you truly become friends/comrades with someone you shared a meal with. Again, Momotaro gives half a dumpling to the Pheasant when they first meet. (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.30) Though Momotaro seeked the Pheasant and made the Pheasant join him, Momotaro offered the Pheasant half of a dumpling as a sign that they are now comrades.

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

Monkey eating onigiri at the celebration after the battle

In Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, after the monkey, dog and bird came back there was a celebration for the success of the attack on Ogres’ Island. The rabbit gave the monkey a rice ball to eat during this celebration. The rice ball, or onigiri, symbolizes the happiness that the other animals feel not only for the victory but for the safe return of the monkey, dog, and bird after everyone thought they were dead. This happiness makes the bonds between comrades even stronger because this happiness proves that your comrades care about you. This celebration with food and drinks symbolizes that bond between comrades because if it was for the strong team work and trust these animals have for each other, they would not make a feast to celebrate the accomplishment and safe return of the animals in the fighter planes.

In Sazanami’s Momotaro and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata, food symbolizes suffering which helps unify a group of individuals to become a community of resistance. Suffering is an emotion that can cause people to either crumble or rise to an occasion, in both the text and the film, Momotaro and the protestors rise to the occasion, creating a group that resists the ‘oni’ or ogre. In Sazanami’s Momotaro, Momotaro asks his father, Old Man, for permission to go on a journey to Ogres’ Island to defeat the ogres that “take people and eat them!” (Sazanami, Momotaro, pg.18) Momotaro, who is now fifteen, feels that Japan, as a country, is suffering at the hands of the ‘oni’ or ogres because they see humans as food and seize all the humans’ treasures. In this scene the food is humans because that is what the ogres eat and what makes humans suffer because like all the animals, humans are now on the menu for ogres. This suffering causes Momotaro to want to be the hero that rescues Japan and return the treasure, so he goes off on a journey where he will meet with a Spotted Dog, a Monkey, and a Pheasant, and create a group of resistance against the ogres and fight back.  Minamata

In Tsuchimoto’s film, fish and shellfish contain mercury compounds that cause the Minamata disease cause major health issues where very few patients have a full recovery and most surviving victims suffer the basic symptoms. The fish and shellfish in this case are the food which symbolizes suffering because many fishermen and their families suffered because of these infected fishes and shellfish. The victims did not just wallow up in their suffering, but rose to the occasion and fought for what was right. They gathered a huge amount of supporters and protestors and marched their way to Osaka to prove that the Minamata disease is real. They used this suffering as a motivation to push forward just as Momotaro did. The food in both the text and the film symbolized suffering, but lead to the unification of groups that resistant to continue suffering and fought back with all their strength.

In conclusion, the foods in Sazanami’s Momotaro, Seo’s Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata symbolize emotions that unify groups of individuals into a family, comrades, or a group of resistance. These emotions are love, affection, care, kindness, happiness, and suffering. Emotions of love, affection, care leads to the formation of a family because that is what a family is built on. Emotions of kindness and happiness form bonds of comradeship because these emotions are what begins and strengths the relationship between comrades. Although suffering is a negative emotion, it can be the motivation that leads to formations of a resistance group that protest and fights for what their members believe are right. Though these three media are depict and re-tell that traditional folklore Momotaro differently, they all show that food is an important unifier of communities.


Momotarō and Food: Unifiers of the Japanese

Although Momotarō originated as a simple folk hero in the early Edo period, he has transformed into a national symbol capable of creating strong bonds within the Japanese people. His portrayal has also changed with his evolution. The adult themes of the Edo period transformed to become more child-friendly before again morphing to a more militaristic attitude in war propaganda. However, the use of food in Momotarō stories has remained consistent: the establishing and strengthening of strong community bonds. Between media and through time, Momotarō is a national symbol and the use of food in his portrayals act as a way to cement community bonds.

In the original tale, Momotarō uses food to establish both camaraderie and loyalty among his vassals. The original story narrates how an old couple finds Momotarō in a large peach and raises him. “Peach Boy”, as Momotarō translates to, grows up and journeys to Oni Island to defeat the demons living there. On his voyage, he enlists the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant using the millet dumplings his parents prepared for him. He returns from his expedition triumphant and laden with treasures. The food in the original version is instrumental in the story. The millet dumplings Momotarō gives to the animals wins him their loyalty. While winning their support, he also establishes dominance and leadership between him and his vassals. This is especially apparent when he “[places] himself between them [the dog and the monkey] and carrying in his hand and iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days […]” (28, Iwaya). Momotarō clearly establishes himself as a strong leader and the dominant figure of his vassals. He is seen as an assertive person to be looked up to and trusted. The comparison to a high military official furthers this idea s well as hints at Momotarō’s coming military might against the demons. His leadership is also apparent when he “pushed them [the dog and monkey] both apart […]” (26, Iwaya). He is responsible enough that he stops them from fighting and even has the foresight to recruit the monkey as another one of his vassals. The millet dumpling shared between the dog and monkey establishes camaraderie between the two. The food also binds the band together on their journey to Oni Island. Not only do they no longer argue, they fight alongside each other with loyalty and bravery. The millet dumplings convey the theme of camaraderie and loyalty on their journey.

In Mitsuyo Seo’s 1943 film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō and the millet dumplings are used to mobilize the Japanese people for the war effort. In the film, Momotarō leads a “Japanese” army of dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits against the evil demons of Oni Island, representing the American and British enemies in World War II. The film’s main purpose is to promote World War II and rally the Japanese people; in contrast, the original tale is aimed to teach and entertain children. However, the propaganda film gains power from using Momotarō as a symbol because people already identify with the original folk hero as a good, strong leader. This idea is furthered with the utter defeat of the Western “demons” and the fact that the “Japanese” army is completely unharmed. This idealized view of war only serves the film’s purpose as propaganda. Millet dumplings also rally the Japanese people together. Strong community bonds and intense loyalty are the Japanese’s strengths and the key to winning the war, and the millet dumplings represent this. In the film, the food does not simply establish these bonds, but actually makes the animals physically stronger.

The monkey's muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The monkey’s muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The millet dumplings, and symbolically the camaraderie between the Japanese, give strength to Momotarō’s army. The food in the films not only encourages camaraderie but also distinguishes the good Japanese and the demonized Westerners.

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

In contrast to the strength the millet dumplings give to the Japanese, food and drink make the Westerners lazy and cowardly. This distinction further unites the Japanese. The biased portrayal dehumanizes the enemies and makes their total defeat more righteous, again typical of a propaganda film. Food in Sea Eagles helps promote enlistment in the war and draws power from the national symbol of Momotarō.

Momotarō is not used only in literature and film, but also as a real world rallying point. In Tsuchimoto’s 1971 documentary, Minamata: The Victims and their World, the citizens of Minamata suffer from mercury poisoning caused by polluted waters. A neighboring factory owned by the Chisso Corporation had been pollution the water for thirty-four years. The film documents the victims’ fight for justice. One scene portrays the march of the victims to the annual Chisso Corporation shareholder meeting in Osaka. In one particular moment, a victim alluded to Momotarō, and the folk hero becomes a rallying point. In fact, the speaker for the victims referenced the corporation as “blue and red ogres”, a clear reference to Momotarō’s Oni Island.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

Momotarō’s popularity as a defender of good and a strong leader made him an ideal symbol for the victims. His story is well known; likening the corporation to the infamous ogres serves to unite the strangers in solidarity and bring the issue closer to home. The long journey and gathering of supporters is also a parallel to Momotarō’s journey and gathering of vassals, again around food. However, the poisoned food is a weapon of the enemy rather than something to encourage camaraderie.  The reference to the familiar character of Momotarō as a defender of good also elicits sympathy for the victims, and the strangers as well as the audience join and support their cause. The ability of the victims to garner that much attention using Momotarō is a testament to the folk hero’s power. From page to screen to the real world, Momotarō retains his popularity and power.

Despite moving between media, or even because of it, Momotarō is a national symbol with a lot of influence, and he serves as a rallying point for multiple causes. Food also connects the various genres and becomes a unifier for the people involved, whether through camaraderie, or sadly, suffering. While the goal of each media was different, the three portrayals of Momotarō all shared the folk hero and food as the banners under which people came together. People tend to rally around strong leaders, and Momotarō is the ideal unifier for the Japanese people, even across time periods and media.

Momotarō: The Boy Who Lived (as a national hero)

Momotarō is one of Japan’s most influential fictional characters. Momotarō, or “peach-boy” in Japanese, has been the figurehead of many children’s cartoons, folk stories and the undisputed face of war propaganda in Japan. Existing once as a playful tale told to children, Momotarō became a doctrine attached to World War II propaganda. Nevertheless, Japanese propaganda remained very humble and true to the original story, using various elements from the story to recreate a sense of national pride. One such element is food. In Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotarō, an accurate retelling of the original folktale, there is a clear indication of how food acts as a unifier throughout the story. Unity was not only needed during the war, but was also imperative to locals who suffered from the Minamata disease, as seen in the 1971 Tsuchimoto Noriaki documentary. This essay focuses on the unity achieved through food across the different Japanese mediums, exploring how different narratives in both literary and visual texts dictate the symbolic or material nature of food.

The most apparent reference to food seen in Momotarō is in the boy’s very name. Momotarō, otherwise known as the peach-boy, could easily be interpreted as a symbol of sustenance and longevity. The whole notion of a ripe peach making its way down the river into the hands of a poor old lady strengthens the relation of peaches to longevity. In a way, it hints to youth and the continuity of life. Furthermore, Momotarō arrives from a distant land (personally, this seems very similar to the story of Moses, even though the stories are not to be associated) and his origins are purposely vague for various reasons. One reason is that it helps the public associate with Momotarō himself. Rather than belong to a certain area or people, Momotarō is given to the public through the ambiguity of his origin. In essence, since Momotarō belongs to no one, he belongs to everyone. This idea is resonated in the victims of Minamata who seek justice for the atrocities they have been subject to.

Like Momotarō, the people of Minamata, as documented by the Tsuchimoto film, unite against the exploitative business that has plagued their land. The Tsuchimoto documentary does justice to the people of Minamata, revealing how devastated they were by the spread of the disease. It was only after being ravaged for numerous years that the locals decided that enough was enough. They formed a large group of people that went to Osaka in order to fight the greedy capitalists, and used Momotarō as a unifying anchor. Their efforts, thoughts and principles were all brought together in order to achieve a greater good, with the Momotaro’s public picture holding it all together.  Hence, Momotarō unified these people under a sense of resistance. People were fighting for their rights to life, health and well-being, just as Momotarō fought the “Oni” who plagued the land.

Although Momotarō existing as the peach-boy is a symbol in itself, there are other examples of the importance of food. The most distinct and memorable of these is the millet dumplings that are seen in Momotarō tales across a plethora of Japanese mediums. Whether it is literary, as depicted in Sazanami’s text, or seen through Seo Mitsuyo’s anime: Momotaro’s Sea Eagles (1943), there is an unarguable importance to the millet dumplings. Beginning with the text, Momotarō uses his precious millet dumplings to sanction the relationship amongst the animals he meets along his journey. As described in the story, he gives each animal half a dumpling. This is a clear example of how food is a symbol of camaraderie, and unifies Momotarō and his animal friends under one common goal. In some ways, Mitsuyo’s anime echoes this idea. In one memorable scene, an anthropomorphic monkey refuses to board the plane until he secures his millet dumplings. These dumplings are then consumed moments before the battle ensues, revealing a sense nationalistic pride associated with this type of food.

Essentially, what the millet dumplings reveal is that food symbolizes a sense of unity for the Japanese people. In Momotarō, it brought Momotarō, a dog, a monkey and a swallow together. For children, talking monkeys and birds are sort of magical, and keep children occupied from the underlying message. A message that was at the center of Japanese propaganda and was the central power to the people of Minamata, it was the idea of unity. It was the understanding that different species could align themselves under a common goal, as the Japanese people would need to do if they were to succeed. It did not matter where you were from or who you were. There was a greater good, a vision larger than any single individual, and only in the unity of the Japanese people could it be achieved.

Unity was a central theme across the different texts and narrative platforms seen in both Momotarō and Tsuchimoto Minamata documentary, yet one other theme was equally important. And this was the idea of a struggle between good and bad. For Momotarō, it was the peach-boy’s valiant quest alongside his animal friends to defeat the evil “oni”. In Minamata, it was the plagued victims against the gluttonous businessmen. This idea of good vs. bad was not only central to the propaganda itself, but in allowing the people of Japan to associate with Momotarō. It allowed the story to be “open-source”, or subject to the interpretation of the audience. This helps make association easy, because all that is needed is a figment of good vs. bad, which could be interpreted into each and every one of the above situations.

Regardless of the theme, the method of interpretation is equally important. Let’s take Minamata for example, a documentary which used a combination of expository and participatory filmmaking techniques. This approach was important in juxtaposing the sickly people with the newly built factories and profits. It helps the audience identify with the people, as they are subject to interviews by the director. In addition, almost nobody will argue that the “voice-overs” commonly used in expository filmmaking are not important factors in creating sympathy to either side. This could be easily contrasted to Mitsuyo’s anime, where a very different medium in the form of anime is used. Yet as was the case with Minamata, there is a distinct effort by Mitsuyo to help the audience relate to the characters. There was a clear indication that the Japanese were the good guys, most of which was indicated through hyperbole, as one side was almost angelical in their good, and the other demonical in their evil. What this meant for Momotarō was that he transcended his literal characterization, meaning that Momotarō could be anybody, can come from anywhere, but he remained a symbol of good and hope.

In conclusion, it is safe to say that food works as a unifier in various mediums and across a multitude of Japanese stories. Whether it is through the classic tale of Momotarō, the war propaganda, or the symbolism underpinning Minamata, there is distinct omnipresence of unity. Moreover, unity was always in the face of an oppressive injustice, hence asserting the importance of good in the face of bad. In a way, this suggests that unity can only be achieved in the face of a greater evil, in an attempt to achieve the greater good. Ultimately, hardly anyone could argue the importance of Momotarō to the Japanese people, in fact, I have grown quite fond of Peach-boy myself.

Superficiality and Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Tanizaki Junichiro’s The Gourmet Club follows the journey of Count G, the leader of a group of Japanese men whose main aspiration in life is to experience culinary pleasures, as he attempts to discover the next experience that will titillate their palettes. In a scene where Count G is taken into a room used for smoking opium, Tanizaki’s use of contrasting diction reveals an awareness of the superficiality of this culinary experience, providing a subtle criticism of culinary exoticism.

The language that the Count uses to describe the hall upon his initial encounter with has positive connotations, indicating how enticing he finds the idea of the cuisine promised by the hall. Count G envisions it as “a place where a purely Chinese style of life prevailed,” a description which points towards how he essentializes what “Chinese” life is (Tanizaki 112). The cuisine promised by the hall tempts Count G because it promises authenticity—something “purely Chinese.” Tanizaki’s word choice here indicates the Count’s positive impression of the hall. It is “flooded with light” (113), the interior furnishings shine “brightly” (114). By choosing these descriptions, Tanizaki indicates that the hall is a place that the Count regards highly. Thus what Count G finds in the hall’s resplendence is this “Chinese style of life,” the promise of something authentically “Chinese” and exotic which will sate his weary palette.

In contrast to the diction used to describe the restaurant initially, there is a shift in Tanizaki’s word choice when Count G enters the room used for smoking opium, with the negative connotation of the language serving to indicate the superficiality of Count G’s desire for Chinese cuisine. In direct opposition with the light-filled first impression of the hall, this room has a “shadowy interior,” a deliberate comparison which goes to show how there is a shift in understanding on a narrative level (127). To underline this general feeling of unease and negativity, the room has “dim light” and is furnished with “tired-looking couches” (127). As Count G enters this room, the reader slowly comes to realize how the temptations offered by the restaurant are only one level of significance to the culinary establishment of the hall and to Count G’s desires.

What Count G sees initially on the surface level of the hall is the glamor—he commodifies this glamor as the “purely Chinese” experience that he seeks, marveling at the exoticism of the unfamiliar sights, sounds, and tastes. However, this is only a superficial understanding of what is “Chinese,” and the narrative points this out by showing the less desirable side to the hall. Tanizaki now describes Count G’s guide, who had previously been “tall,” “good-looking,” and “honest-looking” (122), as “unpleasant” and “lifeless,” with “the look of a ruined race” (127). While the Count is enticed by the culinary pleasures of the hall, he ignores the complexities and nuances of actual life in China, only seeking a superficial exotic experience through what is specifically desirable to him. Thus in establishing this disparity, Tanizaki shows an awareness of how shallow Count G’s culinary exoticism is.

Euphoria: An Analysis of Exoticism in The Gourmet Club

Exotic is strictly defined as something originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country. However, to be truly exotic is not simply to have a foreign pattern or single flavor; rather, it is a symphony of different experiences and emotions evoked by the item in question. This idea of a complete exotic experience is dramatized in Tanizaki Junichirō’s The Gourmet Club through the use of food.

Many people have said that the true value of something is not in the destination, but the journey; this idea is also prevalent in The Gourmet Club. The five men in the club ceaselessly search for delicious food, wandering the streets of Tokyo in search of that special, exotic meal. “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo […] like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find” (102). Their quest emphasizes the importance of what they are searching for: food. To them, food is not simply something to survive; it is their reason for living. The comparison to curio collectors also suggests an exotic element to their search and implies a sort of discovery. Both the mystery and the discovery contribute to the idea of exoticism.

Another element of exoticism is the emphasis on beauty and the euphoria of experiencing it. This is exactly what the Count encounters at Chechiang Hall. Even before entering the place, he is thrown into an ethereal reality where his senses of taste and sound combine: “[…] when suddenly the melody became full, rounded, and plaintive like a voice that is thick with tears, he thought of a rich broth of braised sea cucumbers, so full-flavored that each mouthful keeps permeating one’s taste buds to their very roots” (109). Junichirō’s use of synesthesia links the deep emotions of the music to the complexity of a delicious meal; food becomes an emotional experience for both the Count and the reader. The fact that the music alone is enough to evoke such a reaction from the Count is only a prelude to the exoticism he encounters in the Hall itself. There he finds dishes he never encountered or dreamed of before. These dishes serve as inspiration for his exotic meals that can only be truly savored using the entire body: “[…]They did not merely taste the cuisine with their tongues: they had to taste it with their eyes, their noses, their ears, and at times with their skin. […] every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Not only are the meals exotic, but also the way the men enjoy their food is completely novel. Mind and body must become completely immersed in the dining experience to fully savor the meal, suggesting euphoria in the act of eating. The emphasis on experiencing the food, rather than simply eating it, furthers the theme of exoticism. The ecstasy of food clearly demonstrates exoticism throughout The Gourmet Club.

The complete experience of food, both leading up to and the physical act of eating, dramatizes exoticism in The Gourmet Club. Junishirō demonstrates through emphasizing exoticism, that for the members of the club, food is something alluring, something to be coveted. He proves that food can be more than simple sustenance; it can be a euphoric, exotic experience.