Momotaro, where Japanese animation began

Film still of Momotarō Umi no Shinpei (Momotarō, Sacred Sailors) © RR

The first animated feature film in Japan's history, Momotaro, Umi No Shinpei (Momotaro, Sacred Sailors) tells of the adventures of a captain and his army of animals. This propaganda film was directed by Mitsuyo Seo during World War II.

Harukichi, a monkey in a sailor uniform, returns home. Head held high, he walks proudly through the fields, watched in awe by young rabbits, foxes and other animals, each one cuter than the next. All waiting for one thing: his account of the liberation of Asia by Momotaro and his animal troops.

Momotaro is a popular hero of Japanese folklore, a story passed down from generation to generation throughout the centuries. Legend has it that once upon a time a woman found a child floating in a river, sent from heaven. The boy grows up to be very strong but very lazy. Then, one day, he is sent to liberate a village overrun by demons. En route, he meets a talking dog, monkey and pheasant, and together they battle the demons, forcing them into surrender.

The legend of Momotaro as liberator was adopted by the Japanese Imperial Navy to celebrate its achievements. The character first appeared in a 37-minute-long animation telling children about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The film was a success, and the idea was revived in 1945. For Momotaro, Umi No Shinpei, 74 minutes long, the Naval Ministry wanted its director, Mitsuyo Seo, to take inspiration from Walt Disney's Fantasia.

Cinematic propaganda that has left an artistic mark. Mitsuyo Seo inspired later generations of animators, beginning with Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy, and widely considered to be the godfather of manga.

Digital restoration scanned in 4K, image restoration and projection in 2K by Shochiku Co., Ltd.