First Japanese Animated Movie ‘Momotaro’ Gets U.S. Release

Momotaro
Courtesy of Funimation

Funimation Entertainment has acquired North American rights to the restored edition of Mitsuyo Seo’s pioneering “Momotaro, Sacred Sailors” – the first feature-length animated film produced in Japan.

“Momotaro, Sacred Sailors” was a propaganda film produced in 1944 by Shochiku Co. Ltd. and released in 1945 during the final months of World War II. With support of Funimation and others, Shochiku had restored the 74-minute, black-and-white film prior to its premiere in the Cannes Classics program.

As part of its agreement with Shochiku, Funimation has secured exclusive rights to the theatrical, digital and home video distribution of the film in the U.S. and Canada.

“Mitsuyo Seo was a key figure in the development of Japan’s anime industry and were honored to have been part of the restoration of ‘Momotaro, Sacred Sailors’ – one of his most famous works,” said Gen Fukunaga, CEO and founder of Funimation. “This wonderful black and white film was created using almost 50,000 cels and offers superb animation, music and entertainment that is on par with any classic Disney film of the same era.”

Seo based the film’s story on the Japanese fairy tale of a boy named Momotaro, who was born from a peach and defeats monsters with the help of his animal friends. In the movie, Momotaro and his friends are now Japanese naval paratroopers and the monsters represent the Allied Powers.

On the eve of a parachute mission during the war in the Pacific, a group of navy paratroopers — a monkey, a dog, a pheasant, and a bear — go home for a brief visit before heading off with their squadron to their base in the South Pacific. Led by boy warrior Momotaro, the paratroopers quickly overpower the horned, white devils, who then surrender to Momotaro unconditionally as peace returns to the South Pacific.

“Momotaro, Sacred Sailors” was backed by Japan’s Ministry of the Navy and produced with a crew of 70 that included Japanese animation pioneer Kenzo Masaoka as director of shadowgraph. Few saw the movie in theaters when it was released as most of Japan was fighting a war that would be lost months later.

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