Funimation Licenses WWII-Era Anime Film Momotaro, Sacred Sailors

posted on by Karen Ressler
1st feature-length Japanese animated film was digitally restored, screened at Cannes

FUNimation Entertainment announced on Tuesday that it has licensed the restored edition of the 1944 anime film Momotaro, Sacred Sailors (Momotaro - Umi no Shinpei) for home video distribution in the United States and Canada. The film is often considered the first feature-length animated film produced in Japan.

Shochiku's digital restoration of the film was screened at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival earlier this month. Funimation was among the financial backers of the restoration.

The film was produced as World War II propaganda. The story follows Momotaro, who, according to the traditional Japanese fairy tail, 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.

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.

United Kingdom's Anime Limited announced at MCM Comic Con this past weekend that it has licensed the film.

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