Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors

Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors is an anime movie
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The very first Japanese animated film ever conceived. An army of Japanese animals must fend off against the British military in order to reclaim Asia.

After completing their naval training, a bear cub, a monkey, a puppy, and a pheasant say goodbye to their families. The monkey's young brother plays with his sailor's cap and falls into a river trying to retrieve it. He is rescued by the other animals in the nick of time, before falling over a waterfall. The scene jumps to a South Pacific island, where the rabbit sailors of the Imperial Navy are clearing the jungle to build an airfield. Watched in fascination by the native creatures (who, rather strangely for the South Pacific, include kangaroos, elephants, tigers, leopards, and rhinos), they complete it just in time for the arrival of a fleet of transport planes, bringing the animals from the former sequence, as well as a human boy, Commander Momotaro. While the military creatures get acclimated, the puppy teaches the local child-animals a nursery rhyme about the Rising Sun. Training takes a more meaningful turn when recon planes bring pictures of the British base on the other side of the island. The monkey, bear, and puppy begin parachute training, while the pheasant becomes a pilot. Presenting a history lesson using silhouette animation, Momotaro explains that Europeans have stolen Asia from its rightful rulers, and that the time has come to fight back. The animals attack the British base in a jarringly violent change of tone from the previous sequences, and the cowardly British ogres each try to get the other to take the responsibility for signing the surrender. Back home in Japan, the animals rejoice at the defeat of the British, while children play at parachuting . . . onto a map of the United States.

A sequel of sorts to the Wartime Anime Momotaro's Sea Eagles (1943), MDSW was Japan's first full-length animated feature, released on 12 April 1945, scant months before the end of the war. In a coincidental similarity to many later anime "movies," it has a disjointed quality, seemingly resulting from the output of separate teams; one on the opening pastoral, one on the island sequences, and another on the "why-we-fight" exposition. Inspired by Japanese screenings of Princess Iron Fan (a Chinese adaptation of Journey to the West), Seo keeps to a slow pacing, with time out for comparisons such as paratroopers to falling dandelions. He also appears to have found native English-speakers to play the British in the surrender scene-perhaps prisoners of war?

In 1983, (ironically, a year dominated by the pacifist Barefoot Gen), the lost film was rediscovered in Sho-chiku's Ofuna warehouse and rereleased in 1984. It eventually made it to video, bundled on the same tape as The Spider and the Tulip (1943), an unrelated 16-minute short in which a black-faced spider, seemingly modeled on Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer, tries to tempt a ladybug into his web. The inclusion of Kichiro Kumaki's film seemed calculated, as in its original year of release, to distract audiences from wartime realities, albeit for different reasons. After the war, director Seo made the featurette The King's Tail (1947), before retiring from anime and becoming a children's author and illustrator. Producer Tadahito Mochinaga emigrated to Manchuria shortly before the close of the war. After the Communist revolution, he was instrumental in the foundation of the Shanghai Animation Studio, which would not only rejuvenate the Chinese animation industry, but would also subsequently work as a Japanese subcontractor on many later anime.

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Original US Poster Art

General Information Edit
Name: Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors
Release Date: Jan. 1, 1945
Romaji: Momotaro Umi no Shinpei
Release Date:
Rating: None
Runtime: 74 (mins)
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