1930’s wartime Japanese cartoon 1930’s wartime Japanese cartoon

1930’s wartime Japanese cartoon

David Gerstein and Cole Johnson found this delightfully primitive 1934 Japanese cartoon about a war in 1936(?). Clearly inspired by Hollywood cartoons of the era, one can read plenty into the fact that the brave Japanese warriors are doing battle with a “mickey mouse” army. Says Gerstein:

Maybe it’s a “Nutcracker Suite”-inspired thing? Dunno if the “Nutcracker” was known in Japan in the 1930s, and this uses pre-”Nutcracker” classical themes, but it does have a mouse kingdom trying to take over a toyland-like world. What’s great, though, is that the mice are obvious Mickey clones, and at about 1:45 a cat lead briefly mutates into Felix. The music over the main and end titles sounds like it belongs with a 1930 Terrytoon or Van Beuren, doesn’t it?

If anyone can translate the title or tell us more about the film’s plot, we are eager to learn.

  • Convoluted and surreal as it gets. Thanks for the nightmares!

  • EricW

    Babelfish and Google to the rescue: this appears to be Komatsuzawa Hajime’s “Toybox Series #3: Picture Book 1936” (a.k.a. Momotaro vs Mickey Mouse). I found this description at http://www.kinema.uwaterloo.ca/white962.htm: “One very popular cartoon character was Momotaro, the “Peach boy,” who appeared in a number of cartoons designed not just for domestic consumption within Japan, but for propaganda use in occupied countries as well. For example, Picture Book 1936 (Momotaro vs. Mickey Mouse) presented fanged Mickey Mouse look-alikes riding giant bats, attacking peaceful Pacific islanders (represented by cats and dolls, for some reason); the hero Momotaro jumps out of a picture book, repels the American mice, and cherry trees blossom throughout the island as the grateful natives sing “Tokyo Chorus.” ” Hope this helps. :)

  • EricW

    Yikes, I knew I’d find something right after I hit the submit button…the historical and cultural context is covered in Japan/America Film Wars: WWII Propaganda and its Cultural Contexts (ed. by Abé Mark Nornes and Fukushima Yukio, New York: Harwood, 1994) pp. 198-200. (thanks, Amazon.com). My very dumbed-down version of the importance of “1936”: in the aftermath of the Mukden (Manchurian) Incident and Japan’s announced withdrawal from the League of Nations after the League concluded they were the aggressor, right wing elements in the country started an opinion campaign that once the Five Power naval limitation treaty ran out in 1936, America was planning to attack Japanese possessions, so Japan needed to expand its military…just in case. Apparently, this cartoon was an attempt to stir the pot.

  • En Ming Hee

    The cartoon is a simple propaganda film and utilizes many characters from Japanese mythology: Kintaro, Momotaro, Urashima Taro (yes, i know these taros seem everywhere, but the term just means “big boy” in Japanese), Musashibo Benkei, and Old Man Hanasaka, the chestnuts, crabs and pestle are the heroes of a story called “The Monkey and the Crab”. The scroll that Urashima Taro (the man riding on a turtle) shows to the audience reads something like: “The Empire lives or dies with me!”, and the quote is attributed to Heihachiro Togo, one of Japan’s greatest naval commanders.

  • Mike Crandol

    I recognize a few of the characters Momotaro summons from the storybook to defend the island against the “Mickey Mouse army;” like Momotaro, they all seem to be heroes from traditional Japanese folk and fairy tales. Along with Momotaro (a boy born from a peach who defeats a goblin “Peter-and-the-Wolf” style with a bunch of animal helpers), I spotted Kintaro (a little boy with super-strength), Urashima, and Hana-Saka-Jijii.

    Urashima’s the fellow riding the tortoise and holding the box; he’s an Ossiin or a Rip Van Winkle type who spends 3 days in an undersea kingdom while 300 years pass on land. His wife, a dragon princess, gives him the magic box along with a warning never to open it. He does, of course, and instantly ages 300 years and turns to dust and bones. That may help shed some light on the seemingly bizarre fate of Mickey Mouse in this film!

    The old man at the end of the cartoon making the flowers bloom is Hana-Saka-Jijii, literally “The old man who makes flowers bloom.” Enough said about him!

    The overall implication seems to be that Japan’s millennia-old cultural traditions can stand up to Upstart America, where the closest thing to a cultural folk hero is Mickey Mouse. But that may be reading a bit much into it; the cartoon’s intended message is obvious. :)

  • Lynn

    The naval group, the one on the turtle and later on the beach with the box is Urashima-taro, another Japanese fairy tale just like Momo-taro.

    He traveled to an undersea palace on the back of a turtle, and then returned to Japan to find a century had gone by. The box he aims at the mouse protected him from the century worth of age he should had accumulated, which is why the mouse gets old.

    In the real story, he opens it on himself out of the mistaken belief that the queen of the undersea palace won’t take him back.

  • Momotaro is a legendary hero in Japan and there are stories about him dating long before 1936. He was used a lot in WWII propaganda films because he represents a kind of gallant innocence. I think this is why the island is populated by toys as well- to give the impression of complete innocence versus menacing Mickey. In any case the synopsis is correct and Momotaro bursts forth from a book of “Ancient Tales of Japan” to save the day.

    Just like the US, the Japanese studios produced many war propaganda films.

  • J. Speed Schwartz

    The title is “Omochabako series dai san wa: Ehon senkyûhyakusanjûroku nen,” (Toybox series 3, PictureBook 1936 – as EricW has above).

    A young Yoshitsugu Tanaka worked on this (as well as toybox series 2) before becoming directing films like “Gauche the Cellist” (1949) and “Uriko Hima to Amanojyaku” (Princess Uriko and the Devil)-1956. He became one of the better-known Japanese animators prior to 1960.

    Although many of the character designs borrow heavily from Mickey and Felix (plenty of other cartoons also borrowed from the Fleischers and Iwerks), the story is more akin to ‘Good Little Monkeys’ (1935) and ‘Book Revue’ (1945- when did this style of cartoon storytelling start?). The film stars many popular fairy-tale characters- notably Momotaro, Kintaro, Urashima-Taro (guy riding the turtle), Issun-Boshi (one-inch boy), and a Tanuki disguised as as a teakettle and then a tank. The film ends when Hanasaka Ojiisan makes the flowers bloom. All of these characters would be quite familiar to a Japanese audience.

    One thing to consider before this film is dismissed as convoluted is the absence of a ‘Benshi’ or narrator. Most animated films of the time would be narrated live- even if they were a ‘トーキー’ (Talking Picture)

    I’m still not sure why Mickey was represented as evil- or why this film takes place in the future- but I’ll try to bring it up at the animation museum in Ogikubo.

    By the way- here’s something that purports to be a production still-

  • MadRat

    For those of you who want to know about the characters in the story without searching Wikipedia yourselves (don’t worry they’re short articles)…



    Urashima Taro


    The story of the tanuki

    Hanasaka Ojiisan

    Musashibo Benkei

    The story of the crab and the monkey

  • Ooh, did anyone notice that the flowers in the end look a lot like Murakami’s flowers for Louis Vuitton. Is that design a common Japanese motif?

  • Russell H

    “Ooh, did anyone notice that the flowers in the end look a lot like Murakami’s flowers for Louis Vuitton. Is that design a common Japanese motif?”

    The five-petalled flower closely resembles the stylized “cherry blossom” insignia found on Japanese Army and Navy hat badges at this time.

    There’s a cartoon similar to this one in the Digital Meme boxset, from 1931. It features Momotaro rescuing the cute-animal inhabitants of a Pacific island from attacks by a bald eagle bearing a close resemblance to the one often topping American flagpoles and seen in other US imagery (the Great Seal, etc.). Even at the beginning of Japan’s incursions into Manchuria, 10 years before Pearl Harbor, anti-American images and stories were cropping up in cartoons.

  • LEon

    why is there a dalek in it (3:36)?

  • Cole Johnson

    The eagle wasn’t necessarily an image of the United States. In the cartoon mentioned by Russell H. “MOMOTARO’S FLYING ADVENTURE” (31), the evil eagle is raising hell in the Antarctic, so I’m not sure what the American connection is. An eagle is shown to be friendly in “THE AIRPLANE CABBY’S LUCKY DAY” (28). {Also on Youtube}. An eagle motif is to be seen at the beginning of the Japanese national newsreel, NIPPON NEWS, from the early 30’s to 1945. ——————Does anyone have copies of the wartime Japanese cartoons DEATH TO SPIES! (42), MOMOTARO’S FLYING MARINES (43) or BATTLE BY BASEBALL (44)?

  • I’m planning to watch about two hours worth of Japanese animated wartime propaganda today, however this one is not in the program. Earlier this week, I saw some films from after the Occupation, including a film called Gulliver’s Great Activities, which used a Gulliver character influenced by the Fleischer character design of Gulliver ten years prior, which was already familiar to Japanese audiences.

    The presenter mentioned the significant influence of American cartoons on early Japanese animation.

    Another short, Princess Baghdad, included lots of Western music, including the type of music you would hear in a North American cartooon at the time. Apparently, this was not exceptional and had not been quite some time.

  • does anyone know where I can purchase a copy of this online?
    or find a better version?

  • stolen

    this is obviously a propaganda film which occurred around the time of World War II. I’m guessing there was a time where the US, bombed two cities of Japan, and Mickey Mouse is very well known in the US that time, so thats why they used that character to depict the country.

    Then the Japanese used famous folklore characters(e.g. Momotaro,etc) from Japan to fight off the evil Mickey army. And the flower at the end, were popular Japanese trademarks, the “cherry blossoms” also known as “Sakura(s)”and still are.

    Correct me if im wrong. I heard this from my lecturer and i’m very intrigued and would like to know more.

    -peace out-

  • jayessell
    • ethel

      Hey, Where can I see it now, any idea? I’m dying to find it now. ~ethel

  • This seems remarkably similar to 1933’s Black Cat Banzai, which uses identical motifs including the bat-planes, evil Mickey Mouse and machine-gunner snakes.