Momotaro, Sacred Sailors ("Momotaro, Umi No Shinpei")
“Cinematic propaganda that has left an artistic mark” – Tarik Khaldi, Festival de Cannes
Once upon a time, a monkey, a dog, a pheasant and a bear joined the Navy! Back from their adventures, the jungle’s many animals flocked to hear them recount their exploits, and thus began the tale of MOMOTARO, SACRED SAILORS – Japan’s very first anime feature! When tasked by the Ministry of Navy to produce a propaganda film for children (!), animation pioneer Mitsuyo Seo turned to Disney’s FANTASIA and the Japanese legend of the peach-boy Momotaro for inspiration. Expanding on his 1943 37-minute retelling of Pearl Harbor, Seo delivered MOMOTARO, SACRED SAILORS, a landmark propaganda film offering a very loose retelling of the Pacific War by way of anthropomorphic animal sing-song, kawaii hyper-violence, gorgeous cell animation and many more surprises, including unauthorized cameos by the likes of Popeye bringing shame to the West!
Presumed lost (or destroyed by U.S. Occupation) until the mid-’80s, MOMOTARO resurfaced on VHS in Japan (and was only available in the West on rare bootlegs). Now freshly restored by Shochiku in a 4K scan of the original 35mm negatives, Seo’s classic lives again – looking not a day older than when it screened in 1945! Fresh off its world premiere in the prestigious Cannes Classics section, MOMOTARO remains – propagandistic material notwithstanding – a timeless achievement in worldwide animation. It’s nothing less than the birth of anime as we know it, carrying in its every fibre the promise of generations of filmmakers to come. Be it the development of Osamu Tezuka’s cartoon style or that of Hayao Miyazaki’s (decidedly healthier) military fetish, it’s all here, in this rare chance to see a lost masterpiece on the big screen!
— Ariel Esteban Cayer