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Submitted: January 07, 2009

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Submitted: January 07, 2009



During World War II the country of Japan adopted a series of programs which were aimed towards the Japanese citizens to promote their beliefs and suffice their goals during the war. Like in many western countries their best-allied force was war propaganda. Programs such as the “Film Law” The main goal of the propaganda was to rid Japan of fears that the nation had to endure since the 1860’s during the time of imperialism where Japan was more or less invaded by modern western countries in Europe, United Kingdom as well as the United States. The main affect the Japanese where aiming for in their war propaganda efforts, was the promotion of their culture to justify why they should have the right to be industrialized as well as a major power in the world. In the 1850’s the United States opened trading portals in Satsuma and Choshu, which gave the Japanese a new set of ideas and aspirations. Before this time Japan had always been an isolated country which governed itself without influence from the outside world. During the 1850’s and 60’s the era of Bakumatsu changed the dynamics of the domestic policies in Japan as well as encouraged intellectual expansion. During this time leading intellectuals such as Aizawa Seishisai opened up schools such as the ‘Mito’ to promote nationalistic and traditional ways. The Japanese were eager to learn from the foreign occupants of their country and had the desire to modernize like the foreigners had, but did not care for the politics they were enforcing on the citizens of Japan. Recalling the history of Japan and its film industry, one can analyze the true meaning of the war propaganda that shaped the ideals of the country during ‘The Second Sino-Japanese War’ and “World War II”

In the 1850’s and 60’s, national ideas began to take hold throughout the culture and words such as ‘sonno joi- ????’ which meant ‘respect the emperor and expel the barbarians.’ Where the Barbarians were the western influences that maintained control in Japan at the time. Other terms surfaced, such as ‘bunmei kaika- ????’ which often meant imitation of the West, where many traditions of the west were being distributed through the ‘Motomachi’ shops, having a huge influence on the Japanese culture. During this time you would also here terms such as ‘Fukoku ky?hei’- ????????, which means, “Enrich the country, strengthen the military”. The idea that Japan wanted to generate a strong appearance on the world stage as well as promote nationalistic ideas was on the rise and needed to be supported by its citizens. With the enthronement of Emperor Meiji in 1868, the ‘Charter Oath’- ??????? was inducted which maintained five oaths that promoted the maintenance of a strong economy and the prosperity of the entire Japanese nation. One of the main oaths that were heavily adhered to during this time was the fifth oath that stated, “Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundation of imperial rule.” (De Bary et al) . Shortly after this time the long reign of feudalism was expelled and a navy and army were installed as well as tax reforms and police systems. Education was now being promoted and industrialization was underway.

Around the 1870’s, Japan began its empire building which included the invasion of Taiwan in 1874 and the Okinawa prefecture of 1879, and the competition for Korea which lasted from 1876 until 1894. Battles between Japan and China began in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, in which China, then under the Qing Dynasty, was defeated by Japan and was forced to cede Taiwan and recognize the independence of Korea in the Treaty of Simonoseki . In 1904 Russia and Japan engaged in the Russo-Japanese War, which was fought over the territories of Manchuria and Korea. Surprisingly Russia lost and added more validity to Japan’s rising power on a world scale, giving more reason to enhance the idealism that Japan is a world force that deserves to be recognized. In 1915 Japan sent the Republic of China “Twenty One Demands” issued by Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu that would broaden Japan’s control in China. China and Japan fought in small isolated engagements, which started in 1931 with the “Mukden Incident” or Manchurian Incident . In 1932 one of the leading directors of Japan, Ushihara Kiyohiko returned from Europe, disgusted by the way his country was being portrayed in foreign countries over the subject of Manchuria. Upon his return to Japan, Ushihara demanded the Japanese domestic film industry do something to counter some of the attacks that were being thrown at them. Ushihara urged the country to emerge from “The protective cocoon of entertainment value” and take up the task of making films embodying the national mission, concluding “Japanese film needs firm guidance and leadership from the national authorities.”(TIS,51)

In the aftermath of the “Manchurian Incident”, Japan announced it’s withdrawal from the League of Nations in 1933 , due to the League’s conclusion that Japan was at fault for the disturbances taking place in China and Korea. With outrage from the domestic community of Japan, concerning the negative depictions surrounding the “Manchurian Incident” the “Film Export-Import Regulation” stepped in, requiring the approval of every foot of celluloid coming in and out of Japan, securing the content in which foreign and domestic viewers were able to watch. Kido Shiro of Shochiku Ltd ., stated to the Diet at this time, “I am fed up with the anti-Japanese quality of so many of those foreign films that claim to introduce the ‘realities’ of our activities in Manchuria to world opinion.”(TIS,52) With this nationalized ideal taking over many of the leaders in Japan the military elements started running propaganda campaigns and building their military, figuring once the Five Power Naval Limitation Treaty ran out in 1936, America would attack Japanese possessions and resources. (J/A FW 198-200) With this fear planted in Japan’s society they felt the need to expand their military, just in case the forecast were true. These ideals produced animation such as the “Toy Box Series, Episode 3: Picture Book 1936” (Omocha-Bako Series, Dai-3-Wa), produced by Komatsuzawa Hajime’s (YT). This propaganda film was actually a futuristic short animation that was created in 1934 but depicted in 1936. Most likely due to the idea, America was going to invade Japan in the coming years due to the expiring treaty.

The short anime, “Toy Box Series, Episode 3: Picture Book 1936” , starts out with a panoramic view of the island of Japan from the Pacific Ocean with birds flying throughout the screen to symbolize peace and serenity. The anime zooms in to happy animal and doll like characters dancing and singing. The characters dancing consist of a bear whom represents renewal and understanding and a tiger that represents the serene strength and power in Japan. To the right of the picture there is a tortoise in which an American rendition of Felix the cat is playing on, which represents security, sanctuary, eternal life and longevity. Three happy monkeys are playing guitar in the background, correlation to the three wise monkeys. The dancing and singing is interrupted by a wicked ‘Mickey Mouse’ rendition flying on a menacing Mickey Mouse faced pterodactyl. The ‘Mickey Mouse’ character is used to represent the United States, as Mickey Mouse is a national anime hero in America. The flying Mickey Mouse then sketches out 1936 to represent the future implications America might have on attacking Japan. Frightening the kids over the island and scouring down on the innocent characters, Mickey Mouse drops a note to the doll and Tiger which represent demands from the U.S. offered by the League of Nations. In a fury, Felix the Cat burns the note sending it back up to burn the hide of Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse pulls out his war trumpet to call upon his troops which are made up of other flying menacing Mickey Mouse characters and snakes, which have an evil connotation and represent trouble. The anime switches frame to a picture of alligators swimming in unison bobbing up and down to represent the submarine fleets of this time. In Japanese symbolism the alligator is looked upon as aggressive, cunning and deceptive. As the evil forces begin to attack the characters of the island and Mickey Mouse captures the doll character, the tiger runs and summons some of Japan’s greatest folklore heroes from a fairytale book. The first to come out is Momotaro who is one of the main heroes in Japanese folklore. The tiger tells Momotaro that the Japanese doll character has been abducted. They show Mickey and the snakes marching around the doll who is tied up in a Native American type ritual. Momotaro pulls on the tail of the Tiger whom represents the strength of Japan and out comes other characters from the fairytale book, such as Kintoro , Urashima Tar? , Hanasaka Jiisan , Issun-b?shi and Saito Musashib? Benkei . After the folklore heroes appear the frame switches to a march sequence including the newly summoned heroes and the island characters. The characters march to a rendition of the “Gunkan March” song (Warship March) originally composed by Tokichi Setoguchi in 1897. Momotaro flies high waiving the traditional Japanese symbol embroidered on a fan with his bird troops behind him. The anime switches to a scene with Urashima Taro, riding a tortoise, holding a fishing pole and a box. In the next shot Urashima is seen holding a scroll that reads “The Empire lives or dies with me!” where the quote was attributed to one of Japan’s greatest naval commanders, T?g? Heihachir?. The war starts by Mickey and his army shooting bullets out of the pterodactyl’s mouth and with ease Momotaro knocks the bullets out of the sky by hitting them with his fan and stepping on them symbolizing the superior strength of the Japanese. The story of “The Crab and the Monkey” , are depicted in the next scene, alluding to the revenge that will be taken on Mickey for the attack on the island. With more attacks coming from the menacing snakes, a Tanuki transforms from a teakettle to a tank, and rolls over one of the snakes; the counter attack is on. Bees surround an evil Mickey pterodactyl and poke him with spikes and make him swell and explode into a skeleton, rendering him debilitated. As the Mickey fights with Momotaro in a sword duel, Mickey slips through the cloud in which they are fighting, and is greeted by a devil character beating a drum. Falling out of the sky, Mickey is poked repeatedly by devils representing the retribution of the menacing Mickey’s evil deeds on the people of the island. Mickey is greeted by mocking laughs from Urashima who opens the mysterious box that ages him 300 years. In the closing scenes of the anime, the viewer watches Hanasaka Jiisan turn the flowers to full bloom, symbolizing the victory over the menacing forces of Mickey Mouse (United States). The victory dance is of “Tokyo Ondo”, which is an old Japanese folk song. The overall implications of this anime seems to be that Japan’s deep rooted culture and traditions can stand up to newly built America and western ideologies. Seeing the influence this may have had on the countries youth moral, we witness why wartime propaganda was so affective and was continued throughout the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Battle of Shanghai was the first of the twenty-two major engagements fought between the Republic of China and the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. The last of these incidents before all out war, was the “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” of 1937, which marked the official beginning of the full-scale war. Following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, the Japanese occupied Shanghai, Nanjing and Southern Shanxi in campaigns involving approximately 350,000 Japanese soldiers, and considerably more Chinese soldiers. Historians estimate up to 300,000 people perished in the Nanking Massacre, after the fall of Nanjing on December 13, 1937, while some Japanese historians denied the existence of a massacre ever happening. Over these discrepancies the national ideals of Japan had to be maintained to keep the social moral up during this time of war.

In March of 1939 the Japanese government set up the Film Law which forced educational and animation films to be shown in theatres to large audiences.(FPS) One of the leading advocates for this law was Tatebayashi Mikio a lieutenant at the Police Division. Mikio states in his “Three Stages of Film Nationalization”, that “the state becomes an active participant in the production of films, which remolds the social fabric” (IPS,71-72). Written into this law were “on-the-spot” inspections during showings at film theatres. The police had their “inspection” passes to theatre at the time. Major players in Japanese society like Negishi Kan’ichi, saw the film law to be a kind of government-civilian (kan-min) cartel in order to control destructive competition and to bar new competition to come into the field. Japanese film was at a crucial point in this time and the industry was pretty much up for grabs and the government saw a perfect opportunity to take over. The laws proclaimed, “in order to serve the progress of national culture, the aim of this law is to implement the development of cinema and to ensure the healthy development of the industry”(IPS,73). Obviously the law was meant to enhance the government’s power in the film industry and with the law passing, there was sufficient resources to create propaganda that would further shape the ideals of the culture. 1941 marked the attack on Pearl Harbor , which was a preventive action by Japan to remove the United State’s Pacific Fleet from being a factor in the war they were going to wage on America, Britain, China and the Netherlands. Japanese labeled these countries as the ‘ABCD’ powers. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Second-Sino-Japanese War emerged into the greater conflict of World War II. At this time, Japan was being brutally targeting in propaganda films by the western world, which caused anxiety amongst the leading officials in the state.

With the film and media industries being so tightly controlled by the military, influence on the war through film was by law mandatory. This type of military domination turned out to be a lift for the animation industry as a whole because the Japanese Navy felt theatrical animation could be their inlet to the young population. This would bring forth a patriotic spirit in the youth and influence them to fight for their country when they came of age. A gentleman by the name of Mituyo Seo founded the first animation studio in collaboration with the Japanese military, to provide wartime anime propaganda . Seo was born in 1911 and has made more than a half dozen short cartoons during the 1930’s. While under his regime a very small staff created a 37-minute short animation called Momotaro no Uniwashi (Momotaro’s Sea Eagles) produced by Geijutsu Eigasha in 1942 and was released on March 25, 1943. Momorato’s character also known as ‘The Peach Boy’ can be compared to ‘Jack the Giant-Killer’ from American folklore for his ability to defeat things bigger and greater than himself. In the short film Momorato is cast as a young naval commander leading a squadron of energetic, monkey fighter pilots, which are cast as the ‘sea eagles’. (FP, 326) This film is clearly focused on attaining children’s attention due to the loveable characters of the ‘sea eagles’ and the protagonist Momotaro. The Ministry of the Navy commissioned this film to celebrate the successful attack on Pearl Harbor and actually uses real footage from the attack. The actual attack is not shown for very long; two thirds of the film sympathetically shows Japanese soldiers getting ready for battle and returning home. Mituyo most likely used ‘sea eagles’ as a metaphor for aircraft that took off from the naval ship and attacked the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. Eluding further to the attack, during the film, Momotaro finds a plaque, which reads, “On a night when the moonlight is bright, there will come from an Eastern land of the Son of Heaven a divine soldier on a white horse who is destined to liberate the people.”(DR, PS 253) Where that ‘Eastern land “ is Japan and the white horse are the airplanes in which are used to kamikaze the U.S. naval fleet in Hawaii. The naval unit consists of the human Momotaro and several animal species representing the Far Eastern races fighting together for a common goal of being free from western imperialist ideas and influence. The force in this animation attacks the demons at the island of Onigashima, which is a mythical island that represented the Americans and British who were demonized and disliked in Japan. This anime clearly distinguishes the racial divide by depicting the American characters as incompetent and Neanderthal like. Momotaro no Uniwashi was so good and highly accepted by the public that the Japanese government aloud Seo to produce a sequel entitled, Momotaro Umi no Shimpei (Momotaro’s Gods-Blessed Sea Warriors).

In this sequel Momotaro and friends reflect Disney like animals jumping around happy and free while they are building airfields, loading troops into planes, and seize a city similar to Singapore from the British. The opening sequence shows four young animals (a bear cub, a monkey, a puppy and a pheasant) in sailor dress uniforms skipping along a country road into a hide out forest, where they meet their friends and patrons. They have just completed their training and are saying their goodbyes before boarding the ship. There is an emotional scene that plays into the nationalistic theme of Japan during this time. Even though the young characters are going to miss their families they are fighting for the ideals and honor of their country. There is a happy and cheerful send-off party for the young soldiers. The monkey's little brother plays with his sailor's cap, which is blown into a fast flowing river. The young boy falls in while trying to retrieve it, and is rescued by all the animal children acting cooperatively just before he is swept over a waterfall. This scene alludes to the cooperation of the different eastern countries and the efforts that will be taken to watch out for one another against the forces of the West. Jumping scenes, there are childlike animals with industrial construction techniques, building watchtowers, barracks and airfields in the jungle setting. The viewer can see how the cheerful animals are lined up in ranks of a military formation. The story is framed by flashbacks, which consist of a father bird calling a baby bird back home, which indicates the nurturing spirit of Japan and the second flashback is a historical retrospective of the period of European colonization. This is captured through silhouettes of ships, maps, and bombardments.

During this second flashback, we see the correlation of European dominance throughout Asia, reminding the viewers of the unsatisfying time that was spent under European rule. These propaganda techniques were also used to show the industrial as well as technological advancements the west had over Japan at that time. This gave the Japanese the idea that they needed to catch up in the world of technology and raise their standards to those of the west especially in the military segment. Using these flashbacks, Mituyo had the ability to make a point without loosing the story line of the complete film. Genius in technique he was able to grasp the situation in the west to glorify the ambitions of the Imperialist Japanese Army and Navy. This scene perpetuates Japans urge for freedom of colonized societies of western powers. This scene also reiterates the means to justify Japans fast growth and conquering of Asian neighbors throughout China.

At the end of the film there is a sequence of great adventure. The little animal troops board a plane with parachutes and rice, take-off to cheers, singing songs in the sky. They then pass through the obstacles of a dramatically visualized storm and parachute landings under fire. “The Peach Boy confronts the British who are surprised that he was able to break through their mighty power to claim a surrender. This type of film definitely gives the young children of Japan the idea that they are stronger and much more militant then the British and their foes. This film also depicts the joyous nature of being in the Imperial Navy, through the laughing and singing by the animal like characters. With the British being the only other human characters besides Momotaro we see the film showing the youth having the ability to overthrow a superior figured authority.

Propaganda With Japan over exhausting itself from the War in 1945 they were forced to surrender in accordance to the Potsdam Declaration. During this time there was the most casualties on Asian soil in the 20th century with approximately 25 million. War propaganda was exclusively provided to engulf the national psyche of Japan to focus them on the Imperialism of the country and the rise of the modern industrialized nation.



Sources of Japanese Tradition, McLaren, p. 8, quoted in De Bary et al. Columbia University Press (April 15, 1964).

Japan/America Film Wars: WWII Propaganda and Its Cultural Contexts (Studies in Film and Video, Vol 1) Routledge; 1 edition (December 1, 1994)

A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos, Donald Richie, Kodansha International; 2 Rev Upd edition (August 1, 2005)

Watching Anime, Reading Manga: 25 Years of Essays and Reviews, Fred Patten, Stone Bridge Press (September 1, 2004)

The Imperial Screen: Japanese Film Culture in the Fifteen Years' War, 1931-1945, Peter B. High, Univ of Wisconsin Press 2003

Frames Per Second Magazine, Interview with Akira Tochigi, Armen Boudjikanian, (April 5,2008)

You tube Momotaro? Kinataro? Urashima Taro? Issun-boshi? The story of the tanuki? Hanasaka Ojiisan? Musashibo Benkei? The story of the crab and the monkey?

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