Newly Digitally Restored WWII-Era Film Premiered at 2016 Cannes Film Festival
Funimation Entertainment is proud to announce its acquisition of the restored edition of Mitsuyo Seo’s “Momotaro, Sacred Sailors” – the first feature-length animated film produced in Japan. Written and directed by Mitsuyo Seo (1911-2010), “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. Earlier this year, with the financial support of Funimation and others, Shochiku restored the 74-minute, black and white film, which premiered during opening weekend of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival 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 both 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 classic 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 Seo’s movie, Momotaro and his friends are now Japanese naval paratroopers and the monsters represent the Allied Powers.
"This digitally restored version of Mitsuyo Seo’s ‘Momotaro, Sacred Sailors’ is truly captivating,” said Mike DuBoise, EVP and COO of Funimation. “Anime fans, film buffs and animators alike will not want to miss this seminal and historic work of Japanese animation.”
Backed by Japan’s Ministry of the Navy, Shochiku produced “Momotaro, Sacred Sailors” with a select crew of 70 that included Japanese animation pioneer Kenzo Masaoka (1898 - 1988) as director of shadowgraph. With a big budget at that time, the film was an animated epic on an unprecedented scale and was composed using almost 50,000 animation cels. Few saw the movie in theaters when it was released as most of Japan was fighting a war that would be lost just five months later. To create the restored print, Shochiku scanned a 35mm master print and internegative in 4K and restored it in 2K.
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. Lead by boy warrior Momotaro, the squadron prepares to attack the enemy on Devil’s Island.
On the eve before the attack, we learn why Momotaro and his squadron are called “sacred sailors.” A story is told of a ship with white men arriving at a beautiful island. The captain tricks the king into thinking they are merchants and he welcomes them on the island. Quickly thereafter, the crew reveal themselves as pirates and then plunder the island. All that remained was a legend that “sacred sailors will come from the east” who will “free the people.” Momotaro and his compatriots are these sacred sailors.
The attack on Devil’s Island finally begins. The paratroopers quickly overpower the horned, white devils, who then surrender to Momotaro unconditionally. Peace returns to the South Pacific.