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Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors (1945)

Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors aka Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei is the first Japanese feature-length animated film. It was directed by Mitsuyo Seo, who was ordered to make a propaganda film for World War II by the Japanese Naval Ministry. Shochiku Moving Picture Laboratory shot the 74-minute film in 1944 and screened it on April 12, 1945.

The film  opens by focusing on a group of animals who have just completed naval training. We watch as these animals: a bear cub, a monkey, a pheasant, and a puppy say goodbye to their families. While they are preoccupied, the monkey’s younger brother falls into a river while chasing the monkey’s cap and is carried towards a waterfall. The dog and the monkey work together to save the child just before he is swept downstream.

A time skip occurs and Japanese forces are seen clearing a forest and constructing an air base in a Pacific island with the help of the jungle animals. A plane lands in the airstrip and from inside emerges Momotaro, depicted as a General, together with the bear, monkey, dog and pheasant, who by this point have became high-ranking officials.

The subsequent scenes show the jungle animals being taught the alphabet via singing, washing clothes, given military training, and loading weapons in warplanes. The animal residents of the island are shown as simple primitives who are star struck by the glamorous and advanced Japanese animals.

A narration of the story of how the island of Celebes was acquired by the Dutch East Indian Company follows and it is revealed that the Japanese are attempting to invade it.

The monkey, dog and bear cub become parachute jumpers while the pheasant becomes a pilot. The paratroopers ambush a halftrack and hastily invade a British fort, causing the unprepared British soldiers to panic and flee. Momotaro, the monkey and the puppy are then shown negotiating with three British officials and after a brief argument, the British agree to surrender Celebes and the surrounding islands to Japanese rule in exchange for freedom.

A brief epilogue shows children playing at parachuting onto continental America outlined on the ground. Plainly the United States is to be the target of their generation.

 

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