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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Japanese Propaganda Cartoons - Updated

Momotaro's Sea Eagle's 1943 Japanese Promotional Poster
Countries involved in any war engage in propaganda. It can be done with the blessing of the media, it can be done with the blessing of the government. Look... let's face it... I have worked for a daily newspaper or two in my day, and I know you aren't getting all the news that's fit to print... it's all the news the media wants you to know about.

This is what propaganda is... except it quite obviously slanders one country or political leader or religion or religious ideal while raising your own views to a higher level....

I've already shown you some very funny, racist cartoons created by patriotic American cartoon companies that were shown to children in movie theaters back in the 1940s. It was to show that evil exists and that we (patriotic we) are taking care of it for you, so don't sweat the gas rations or lights-out or curfews... we know what we are doing - and it's for your own good. Now rally around the flag boys and girls and cheer your country (which ever one you are in) to victory. Oh... by bonds, do a paper drive and plant a victory garden.

Japan was no different. As the aggressor nation in World War II against the U.S., Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, Singapore, Dutch East Indies, Australia, (and lots more!!!) and before that in the 1930s its invasion of so many other countries like China, Manchuria, Indo-China, Soviet Union (Yup!), Mongolia.

Yes... Japan was one bad mama-jamma. And still... in an effort to show that might makes right, Japan took the time to make a few propaganda cartoons - a selection of which are presented here for your perusal.

My friend Mike Rogers over at Marketing Japan has done a nice job in telling us a bit about Japanese propaganda cartoons, teaching me about such classics as Momotaro's Sea Eagles and Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors.

Wow... it's funny... I've always had a morbid fascination of WWII, going through my parents books as an eight-year-old staring at corpses in the Nazi ovens or the emaciated creatures the photo caption swore were people in something called a death camp. Even then I wasn't stupid. I knew it was a long time ago. And despite having a Jewish grandmother and German friends, knowing what I did about the past didn't affect the way I lived my present.

I personally think it's a great idea for people (and kids) to see these propaganda cartoons - provided some proper context is provided as to what they are actually seeing and why it was done, and why such views are not acceptable in today's society.

Too many people on this great blue marble have skewed views of the world. Others simply don't know their history. Of course... and this is why I am actually presenting this particular blog... history is always (re)written by the winners.

Twenty years ago when I first wanted top go to Japan and applied to the Japanese Consulate here in Toronto about getting into the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Programme. I quite clearly stated that one of the reasons why I wanted to go (and I'll bet I'm the only person to have honestly stated this), is that I wanted to go and actually talk to some of Japan's elder statesmen (old people) about what they thought about the war--to find out what they thought and felt, and how it impacted their life and that of their family.

Remember... history is written by the winners... despite Japan's pomp and bravado in the following cartoons, Japan was the 'loser' in WWII (amongst others). I wanted to know... not what the 'victors' had to say... but what the 'losers' had to say.

And I have no idea why so many of Japan's old-timers opened up to me (may have been the sake - Japanese rice wine), but they did. It made the past... WWII, less about a cold, sterile history and more human to me.

Go and talk to a war vet... while there is still time. Learn.

But... before you do... grab some of the flavor of WWII by watching some of Japan's propaganda cartoons!

Japanese males were characterized as being courageous and composed, kind and tolerant. China, meanwhile, is represented by women who are alluring, but obstinate and capricious. Western culture is disparaged through stereotypical portrayals, with Japanese or other Asian males with a Western education -- typically shown indulging in American cigarettes and jazz music -- portrayed as cowardly, deceitful, pleasure-seeking and venal.

The first Japanese cartoon we'll look at, is Momotaro's Sea Eagles (in Japanese it is: 桃太郎の海鷲 or Momotarō no Umiwashi) was made in 1942 by Seo Mitsuyo (surname first), and released by Geijutsu Eigasha on March 25, 1943 with a running time of 37 minutes.

It was supposedly produced with the cooperation of the Japanese Naval Ministry, but no cooperation was in place to protect military secrets, but nonetheless the Japanese Imperial Navy did endorse the film.

In this featurette Momotaro is portrayed as a young naval human commander leading a squadron of funny-animal monkey fighter pilots (his "sea eagles"). Featuring the "Peach Boy" character of Japanese folklore, this film was aimed at children, telling the story of a naval unit consisting of the human Momotaro and several animal species representing the Far Eastern races fighting together for a common goal. In a dramatization of the attack on Pearl Harbor, this force attacks the demons at the island of Onigashima - representing the Americans and British demonized in Japanese propaganda. In fact oni means ogres, demons and trolls - I'm not sure what ga means except maybe it's a modifier, and shima (and jima) means island), and the film also utilizes actual footage of the Pearl Harbor attack.

God help me... I could NOT find a copy of this cartoon anywhere - and I searched and searched! However, there is a small bit of it contained in the cartoon compilation below. A DVD version without English subtitles was released in Japan by Kinokuniya Shoten in 2004; one with subtitles was released in the United States by Zakka Films in 2009

Our next film is a sequel to the one above. Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (originally called in Japanese 桃太郎 海の神兵(ももたろう うみのしんぺい) Momotaro Umi no shinpei): Directed again by Seo, he was ordered to make a propaganda film for the war by the Japanese Naval Ministry, and with the Shochiku Moving Picture Laboratory, they shot the 74-minute film in 1944 and debuted it to audiences on April 12, 1945.

Here's a synopsis of the movie: After completing his naval training, a bear cub, a monkey, a pheasant and a puppy return home to say good-bye to their respective families. Again featuring Momotaro of Peach Boy fame, the cartoon is all about Japan's liberation of Asia and depicts a surprise attack on Sulawesi Island, featuring some awesome parachute jumps. The monkey, puppy and bear are the paratroopers, while the pheasant (being the only one with wings, naturally), is a pilot.  

Down below, is a You Tube video showing part one of nine...  when you click through, you will see links beside it to see the whole movie. This cartoon, despite the lack of translations is well worth the watch to peer into the mind-set of Japan during World War II.

What's interesting is how the school uniforms still worn today by the junior and senior high school kids are patterned after the navy costumes of Japan.

Okay, this has been all very good... Mike Rogers of Marketing Japan blog (see HERE) showed off these two films... but let's look a little closer at Japan's war on Asia done pre-WWII.

The classic Japanese cartoon from 1933 that I have chosen for you is Ugokie-ko-ri-no-tatehiki which I believe translates into Moving Picture: Fox and Tanuki (Raccoon Dog) Cheat Each Other. It is directed by Oishi Ikuo (surname first) and made by Toho Studios.

People who know their cartoons (me) know this one has a similar feel to the Max Fleischer cartoon of the era - if anyone has ever seen any of the black & white Popeye cartoons from this era - they are superb, and to me were the best (non-Disney) cartoons made until hell... Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

This toon has synced sound with a great soundtrack featuring traditional Japanese music and instruments. It also has some great visual puns and utilizes some excellent camera angles.

The plot revolves around a farmer walking in the woods, but being frightened away by a shape-shifting fox. The fox then disguises himself as a samurai and makes his way to a temple haunted by a young shape-shifting tanuki (raccoon dog) whose various attempts to frighten the fox/samurai away fail. The young tanuki telephones his father, and they join forces against the samurai/fox. During the pranks, the temple becomes ruined during an epic battle between the fox and the two tanuki

Now, obviously not all of Japan's cartoons were propaganda cartoons. Here's a delightful one from 1943 directed by Masaoka Kenzo entitled Kumo-to-Churippu (Spider And Tulip).

It is a story about a ladybird being chased by a spider. The spider catches the ladybird, but then it rains, the spider drowns, and the ladybird is freed by a friendly fly.
Just so you know, this is an important cartoon because it wasn't a propaganda cartoon - probably the only one made in Japan during the war! This actually angered the Japanese military! Three cheers for Masaoka-san for having the guts to make it!

And finally, here's an epic Japanese cartoon made post WWII showing the horrors of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki). This is NOT a propaganda cartoon. End of story.

It was made in 1983, and I believe is called Barefoot Gen. People who write in and comment about videos are often idiots - and the number of people who have done so when viewing this particular cartoon are proof of that. The cartoon is meant to show the horrors of war. To the Japanese, getting their collective ass kicked by atomic bombs was an eye-opener, and forever changed the way the Japanese went about its business globally. The cartoon is meant to state - 'never again'. It is not mean to point fingers. It is not mean to moan about how unfair the war was to Japan. It was made to show how unfair war can be to the innocent. Personally... if you are a soldier involved in a war, you are fair game. Civilians - and it doesn't matter which war or conflict throughout the history of mankind, civilians.. they suffer. Through the loss of loved ones, or through the rape, pillage and like in this cartoon, the near-total decimation of life, war sucks the big one.

You'll notice that the cartoon opens up as just another day, where people seemingly unaffected by the horrors of war are simply going about their life. But the then... war intrudes in a big, big way, ensuring the future of warfare and life-fare will be changed forever.  

It's a cartoon. And one that shows the horrors of war that propaganda will never reveal.  

I urge you all to take a good look at this movie and pray to whatever god or gods you worship that no one ever uses an atomic or nuclear weapon on another human being again. This cartoon is effing awesome. Thanks to my friend known as Alucard, we know this film is called Pikadon (brilliant light = pika; thunderous blas = don). Alucard says that the movie was created by Kinoshita Renzou (surname first). I really appreciate the help!

For a look at American propaganda cartoon made during WWII, please check out my November 16, 2011 blog: HERE.

Yes... it took me a month-and-a-half to create this particular blog, but I tried to do some serious research. 

By Andrew Joseph


  1. Hello

    First of all, let me congratulate you on the post, it is interesting and apealing and I read it all the way.

    I have aquestion though, the final anime/cartoon you posted, you said it might be Barefoot Gen, but I already seen it and it is not that one.

    This one is the one I saw as Barefoot Gen, based on the barefoot gen books:

    So, I wonder what movie is that, I would really like to see it too. If you get a lead about it, please comment here...

    1. Hi Alucard! Thanks for writing and pointing out my mistake re: the Hiroshima video. I will do my best to determine what it really is and post an updated blog. I know I did actually struggle with getting the correct data... and I obviously failed.

    2. Hello, I'm contacting again because I asked my sensei if she could search Japanese engines for the mentioned movie, what she did. The result is that movie is called Pikadon by Renzou Kinoshita. It's hard to track it or gather information through google and youtube, but when my Japanese skills become decent I hope to do it...
      Best Regards.

    3. Hello Alucard! Thank-you very much for you and your teacher taking the time to search out this cartoon for me! It is very much appreciated!
      I have updated the blog and mentioned you and your information!
      I really appreciate your interest, help and friendship!