Kana Kita, Yu Aoi (voices)
FilmInk rates movies out of $20 — the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth
…a unique, beautifully entertaining and wholly original film.
Whenever a new anime feature film makes waves with a sense of whimsy, fantasy and bold storytelling the inevitable appraisals as ‘The New Hayao Miyazaki’ or questions as to whether a new ‘Studio Ghibli’ has emerged often accompanies the film’s immediate success. When in fact what we are seeing is the emergence of filmmakers having grown up on the works of previous masters such as Miyazaki, Otomo, Oshii and Takahata. Young bold filmmakers with unique visions and their own stories to tell.
Filmmakers such as Mamoru Hosoda of Summer Wars fame, Makoto Shinkai whose Your Name remains Japan’s top earning anime, and with the debut of Penguin Highway, independent filmmaker and animator Hiroyasu Ishida is likely to join the ranks of anime’s new avant-garde, having already drawn the above-mentioned comparisons.
Produced under Ishida’s own Studio Colorido banner, and based on the award winning novel by Tomihiko Morimi, Penguin Highway is an impressively paced boys-own-adventure story that begins as a light hearted character study of a precocious fourth grader which unexpectedly escalates into a wild end-of-the-world escapade, complete with metaphysical mysteries, strange jabberwocky monstrosities and, as the title suggests, plenty, and we do mean plenty, of penguins.
During its opening monologue, the film introduces us to Aoyama, an overtly confident, if somewhat socially awkward student who views the world as one large scientific experiment. Urged on by his father, Aoyama documents everything around him, from weather patterns to the behaviour of bullies. But when a rookery of penguin suddenly appears in a field, his curiosity is put to task in figuring out the how and why.
Turning to his friend and chess instructor, a young woman who works at the local dentist clinic, Aoyama soon discovers a number of peculiar incidents around his home town that seem to share an elusive common thread, the least of which include the fact that the dental nurse can manifest penguins from random objects, and that one of his fellow classmates has discovered a giant orb of water floating in a field hidden deep within the woods.
Without question Aoyama is the heart of Penguin Highway, and director Ishida handles the character beautifully as a guide to help his audience navigate the turbulent, and at times perplexing narrative. Coupled with the film’s gorgeous art design and a nostalgic undercurrent, reminiscent of films such as The Goonies or Monster Club, Penguin Highway undoubtedly warrants the inevitable comparisons it will receive, but remains far more deserving of praise as a unique, beautifully entertaining and wholly original film.