Momotaro, Umi no Shinpei (Momotaro, Sacred Sailors). 1945. Japan. Directed by Mitsuyo Seo. DCP. In Japanese; English subtitles. 74 min.
A dark chapter in Shochiku history, this propaganda film, commissioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War, was also Japan’s first feature-length animation and a tremendous boyhood influence on Tezuka Osamu, “the godfather of manga,” along with countless other Japanese graphic novelists and animators. Though the film was believed destroyed by the US occupying forces after the war, a sole print eventually resurfaced and is here presented in a 4K digital restoration, revealing a true technical marvel made by a team of animators who, during the hurried production, were conscripted one by one into fighting a losing battle on the warfront. While singing forest animals abound—Disney is inescapable—the film’s inherent colonial ideology and caricatures of enemy forces make for a particularly distasteful narrative, a solemn reminder of how myths and pop culture can be used to toxic nationalist ends. 4K digital restoration courtesy Shochiku.