“Evil Mickey Mouse” Invades Japan in a 1934 Japanese Anime Propaganda Film

Before the Japan­ese fell com­plete­ly, one-hun­dred per­cent in love with any­thing and every­thing Dis­ney (I mean, seri­ous­ly, they love it), Mick­ey Mouse rep­re­sent­ed some­thing com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent: Pure Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ist evil.

At least he does in this 1934 ani­mat­ed pro­pa­gan­da car­toon Omochabako series dai san wa: Ehon senkya-hyaku­san­ja-rokunen (Toy­box Series 3: Pic­ture Book 1936) by Komat­suza­wa Hajime. It’s a con­vo­lut­ed title, but pret­ty sim­ple in plot. An island of cute crit­ters (includ­ing one Felix the Cat clone) is attacked from the air by an army of Mick­ey Mous­es (Mick­ey Mice?) rid­ing bats and assist­ed by croc­o­diles and snakes that act like machine guns. The fright­ened crea­tures call on the heroes of Japan­ese sto­ry­books and folk leg­ends to help them, from Momo­taro (“Peach Boy”) and Kin­taro (“Gold­en Boy”) to Issun-boshi (“One Inch Boy”) and Benkei, a war­rior monk, to send Mick­ey pack­ing. The not-so-sub­tle mes­sage: Mick­ey Mouse may be your hero, Amer­i­ca, but our char­ac­ters are old­er, more numer­ous, and way more beloved. Our pop cul­ture is old­er than yours!

Iron­i­cal­ly, the film is ani­mat­ed in the style of Amer­i­can mas­ters Walt Dis­ney, Ub Iwerks, and Max Fleis­ch­er, with its boun­cy char­ac­ter loops and elas­tic meta­mor­phoses.

Though made in 1934, it is set in 1936, which might tie (accord­ing to this site) into the expi­ra­tion of a naval treaty between the Unit­ed States and Japan on that date. The Japan­ese attack on Pearl Har­bor was a full sev­en years off, but clear­ly ten­sions were run­ning high even then, as both the West and Japan had their eyes on Asia and the South Pacif­ic.

Also of note is the trope of char­ac­ters com­ing alive from a sto­ry­book, as this was a favorite sub­ject in sev­er­al Warn­er Bros. car­toons that would come out a few years lat­er (and which we’ve cov­ered.)

And final­ly to clar­i­fy Mickey’s fate at the end of the film: the old man with the box is a Rip Van Win­kle char­ac­ter, and in Japan­ese folk­lore he is made old by the con­tents of a box he’s been told not to open. Vio­lence is not van­quished with vio­lence at the end of this car­toon, but with mag­ic and deri­sive laugh­ter fol­lowed by a song. In the real world, things would not end so eas­i­ly.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Don­ald Duck’s Bad Nazi Dream and Four Oth­er Dis­ney Pro­pa­gan­da Car­toons from World War II

Dr. Seuss’ World War II Pro­pa­gan­da Films: Your Job in Ger­many (1945) and Our Job in Japan (1946)

“The Duck­ta­tors”: Loony Tunes Turns Ani­ma­tion into Wartime Pro­pa­gan­da (1942)


Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

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