A relatively uneventful Wednesday (which began with me buying a band-aid for my injured finger at the local pharmacy—I still have not located a corkscrew) featured two oddball pictures guaranteed not to play at your local multiplex.
When I saw the description for Momotaro, Sacred Sailors on the Fantasia schedule, I knew I wanted to prioritize it if at all possible. Only a bizarrely dedicated movie fan would consider a Japanese animated propaganda film from 1945 a “must see,” and as I expected, this was the most lightly-attended event of the festival so far—the lower part of the Alumni Hall auditorium was about two-thirds full. The challenge of watching an indie or foreign fantasy film is one thing; a relic from seventy years ago, espousing a political view that no living person on the planet now shares, presented in a visual style that vanished long ago, is not the biggest entertainment draw. It was encouraging to see a couple of hundred curiosity seekers show up to experience visions of the world through the eyes of another time and place. Ironically, Momotaro was never properly screened in its homeland, since Japan had already lost the war before the film was ready to be shown.
Intended to inspire patriotism in the imperial young, Momataro features anthropomorphic monkeys, bears, rabbits, birds and other creatures, all led by a cherubic human commanding officer (Momataro himself, a legendary Japanese figure whose name translates as “peach boy”). The opening scenes are idyllic and dull, as sailors return to their home village on furlough and are greeted by adoring friends and family. A youngster falls into the river and the entire village demonstrates the value of teamwork by pulling together to rescue them. Later, a village pitches in to build airplane hangars (the elephants sing “sweat is my only joy” while hauling timber). The animal antics provide Disney-style comic relief throughout, and much of this black and white cartoon mimics the feel of an early Mickey Mouse short, although other parts are much more ambitious, and darker (a cloud of dandelion spores evokes paratroopers in flight).
Since cavorting animated animals are no longer a novelty, the early reels are boring to modern sensibilities. The propaganda is actually fairly innocuous, pushing a generic “everyone pulls together and does their part” message of social responsibility. I was wondering if the movie was ever going to mention the actual war and the enemy; fortunately, when it does in the last act, things become a lot more interesting. In shadow-play flashback, a “large-nosed” white man comes to a Pacific island posing as a merchant, but he’s actually the leader of a band of pirates who massacre the islanders. Before dying, Continue reading FANTASIA FILM FESTIVAL DIARY, 7/20/2016 (MOMOTARO, SACRED SAILORS & THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK)