WWII-Era Anime Momotaro: Sacred Sailors to Screen at MIT

posted on by Anita Tai
Screening of 1st feature-length Japanese animated film open to public on April 24

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will screen the restored edition of the 1944 anime film Momotaro, Sacred Sailors (Momotaro - Umi no Shinpei) on April 24. The event is free and open to the public. The screening will be held at at 7:00 p.m. followed by a discussion with MIT professor Ian Condry (The Soul of Anime) and FUNimation Entertainment brand manager Jennifer Fu.

The film was produced as World War II propaganda, and is often considered the first feature-length animated film produced in Japan. Mitsuyo Seo directed the 74-minute black-and-white film after first directing the 37-minute film Momotaro's Sea Eagle, which has a similar premise and is sometimes considered to be the first feature-length animated film in Japan based on different definitions of "feature-length." A crew of 70 staff members created Momotaro, Sacred Sailors using 50,000 animation cels on a budget of 270,000 yen (equivalent to about 600 million yen or US$5.5 million today).

After the war the film was believed to be lost until a negative copy was discovered in 1983 and re-released in 1984.

Production and distribution company Shochiku digitally restored the with the help of financial backers including Funimation, and the restoration screened at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. Funimation licensed the film for home video distribution in North America later that year, and plans to release the film on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on May 9.

The story follows Momotaro, who, according to the traditional Japanese fairy tale, was born from a peach and joins with three animal companions to defeat monsters. In this version, Momotaro is running a Japanese naval base and fighting the Allied Powers.

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