Directed By: Hiroyasu Ishida
Written By: Makoto Ueda
Studio: Studio Colorido
Run Time: 119 mins – 1 hr 59 mins
Aoyama is no ordinary 10 year old boy, he is a child genius. With a bright mind and future ahead of him, he uses his days to document his observations and theories. He has determined how many days he has left before he becomes an amazing grown up. Dreaming of the day he will have to turn down many girls pleading to be his bride, with his sights set on one older woman. A woman known as the ‘Lady’, who works at the local dentist office. In the meantime, Aoyama is occupied with uncovering the truth behind why so many penguins are appearing in this quiet suburban town, far from the sea.
What has now become one of my favorite events of the calendar, is the annual Japanese Film Festival. With two showings this year in my town, I have attended both with such excitement. I have been highly awaiting for this moment again, ever since the second that last film ended 12 months ago with the 2018 festival. Now in its’ 11th year running, with 8 locations and 16 films and a wide array of Asian films, from documentaries, animated films, spoof horrors (One Cut Of The Dead was the second screening I attended at my venue) and even the 1985 film – The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers. Which is soon to be released physically by Third Window Films.
Penguin Highway is visually beautiful to watch. Set in a suburban part of Japan, with a mix of new and traditional styled buildings and homes. Busy with people going about their everyday lives and the landscape is filled with nearly untouched parts of nature. An ideal place for kids to run about freely, Aoyama though is less of the outgoing, boisterous kid you would expect. Instead he prefers to spend his days writing in his journals about the World he observes around him, gaining more knowledge and living with his head in the books. He is however a growing boy who is getting closer to puberty. As he has developed a crush on a young woman working at his dentist. Aoyama has purposely allowed for his teeth to become bad enough so that he would require frequent visits to the clinic, just to see her. Aoyama is determined to become a scientist and uncover the mysteries that are around him. Within his own town, dozens of penguins have started to appear out of nowhere. With no explanation in sight, Aoyama grabs a new notebook and starts documenting and investigating every appearance.
Aoyama is certainly an interesting character, and indeed reminds me quite a bit of Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. A very logical person, who speaks their mind – although is perhaps a bit too blunt at times, and has a very slim grasp on what to do in social interactions. He is still 10 years old however and is on the brink of puberty, as he takes a vast interest in one young woman and her breasts. You read that right folks, Aoyama is a boob-man. The Lady in question is very interesting, even before we discover her secrets.
Aoyama, like many other kids, is experiencing some problems at school, not academically though. Instead the class bully has been throwing his weight around and is picking on the vast majority of the class. In particular, Aoyama and his friend Uchida. Aoyama certainly has plenty going on in his life, as well as trying to improve his chess skills in order to better challenge his new classmate and fellow scientist Hamamoto. Which later develops into a love quadrilateral (a four way love triangle).
Penguin Highway was directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, with this being his debut full length animated film, having only worked on shorts up to this point. The animation company who produced this film is Studio Colorido, a still new enough company that was established back in 2011 and is based in Tokyo. To date they have released four movies including Penguin Highway as well as many shorts, including the popular McDonald’s anime advert which promotes their recruitment drive. You can see it on YouTube, by typing ‘McDonald’s The Future Me’ into the search bar. The animation in Penguin Highway is very impressive and at times it reminds of the character style used in Studio Ghibli films, as well as last year’s’ hit Mirai. During the climax of this film, the story took a bizarre turn whilst the animation stayed flawless throughout.
For me the penguins still remain the drawing factor for this film, well above the script. It didn’t deliver the memorable experience I was hoping for, compared to last years screening of Lu Over The Wall. Although visually entertaining and an alright script, it was just missing some more character development or history that would have made this a more enjoyable watch. It is worth watching, although perhaps not at the top of my recommended list. Penguin Highway has been licensed by Anime Limited since last year, so except a physical release in the somewhat near future.