Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors (桃太郎 海の神兵, Momotarō: Umi no Shinpei) is a 74-minute black-and-white 1945 animated film from Japan, written and directed by Mitsuyo Seo.
Four cute cuddly creatures—a monkey, a bear cub, a rabbit, and a pheasant—return home from naval aviation training to say goodbye to their familes. While there, the monkey's little brother falls into the river, and the gang have to save him before he plunges over the falls. The action then skips to a Pacific island where the Japanese forces (again cute cuddly animals, mostly rabbits) are building an air base. Momotaro, a little boy dressed as a general, arrives to take command, along with the monkey, bear cub, rabbit, and pheasant. The Japanese build their base while taking time to give the natives classes on how to write and speak Japanese. In the third section of the film, Momotaro and his squadron of cute cuddly Imperial Japanese Navy parachutists conduct an airborne invasion of another island that is held by British imperialists.
Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors was the sequel to a 37-minute short film, Momotaro's Sea Eagles (1943). The character of Momotaro is taken from the famous Japanese folk tale "Momotaro", about a miraculous boy born from a peach who grows up to be a great warrior.
This film, being a propaganda piece produced in the final months of a war Japan was obviously losing, and aimed at children who had been evacuated from the cities to the countryside, didn't find much of an audience in 1945. For decades it was thought to be lost, possibly destroyed by the occupying Americans, until a negative print was found in 1983. It is believed to be the first feature-length anime film ever made.
An early World War 2 example of Kawaisa.
- And the Adventure Continues: The film ends with the little kid animals on the island pretending to be paratroopers, as they jump from a tree—onto a chalk outline of North America. A little bit of undue optimism there.
- As You Know: The monkey says "Let your big brother hold you" to the little monkey he's carrying.
- Dirty Coward: All the British, who panic and run when the Japanese land, and their officers, who cringe and stutter during surrender negotiations.
- Educational Song: The song sung in the island school is "The Song of AIUEO", a Real Life traditional song children sing when learning the Japanese alphabet.
- Evil Brit: From the Japanese perspective, all the British pirates who conquered a peaceful island, and the imperialists that continue to hold it.
- Fatal Family Photo: Averted, apparently. The pheasant gets a letter containing a photo of his three kids in their nest, but there is no scene indicating he's killed in the attack on the British island.
- Flashback: A flashback shows how British pirates lied to and deceived the natives of a peaceful island, before invading and conquering it.
- Foreshadowing: The closeup of floating dandelion seeds early in the film is echoed by the Japanese parachute drop late in the film.
- Hard-Work Montage: A long sequence showing the rabbit sailors and the island's native animals working together to build the air base.
- It's Raining Men: The last portion of the film is Momotaro and his men successfully conducting an airborne invasion of a British-held island.
- Mickey Mousing: Seen pretty consistently during the musical numbers.
- Mighty Whitey: The Japanese equivalent. The animals on the island are only too happy to turn their home over to the Japanese for a military base, and they're very enthusiastic about learning the Japanese language.
- Misplaced Wildlife: The little island where the Japanese build their base contains elephants, rhinos, kangaroos, and crocodiles, none of which are found in the islands of the southwest Pacific. In fact, animals that large aren't found on small islands, period.
- Mood Whiplash: The lyrical, pastoral opening scenes, where the monkey carries his little brother around and everything is gentle and sweet, clash with the aggressively militaristic scenes that follow. This may have been a subtle moment of Getting Crap Past the Radar for Seo, who was politically a left-winger.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed:
- The island that the Japanese take from the British is generic, but the surrender negotiations at the end are drawn to look very much like Percival's surrender of Singapore◊, the single worst British humiliation of the entire war.
- Bizarrely, one of the British officers at the surrender is drawn to look like Bluto.
- Patriotic Fervor: It is a wartime propaganda film, after all. Scenes where characters sing things like "Our kingdom is beautiful and proud" while flying the Rising Sun flag are to be expected.
- Space Jews: The three monkeys who sing about the arrival of Momotaro are drawn to strongly resemble stereotypical African tribesmen.
- Surprise Creepy: See Mood Whiplash above. The sweet and cuddly animals become fearsome warriors.
- Surprisingly Good English: The English-language dialogue from the British soldiers is quite fluent both in accent and grammar. This raises the question of just who the heck was recording this dialogue during a time when the Japanese were at war with all the Anglophone countries of the world except for Ireland. British prisoners-of-war, maybe?
- Time Skip: A rather abrupt transition from the peaceful, idyllic village to the island with the air base under construction.
- Wartime Cartoon: Not only the first feature-length anime, but probably the first feature-length wartime cartoon made anywhere.