Leeds International Film Festival – Penguin Highway

Director: Hiroyasu Ishida

Writers: Tomihiko Morimi (novel), Makoto Ueda (screenplay)

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Hiroyasu Ishida’s coming-of-age anime is a fantasy with some incredible animation, from the characters in the rich narrative to the penguins and Jabberwockies in the magical mystery.

The central character, 10-year-old Aoyama, embarks on a quest is to solve the mystery of why penguins are suddenly appearing in the suburbs. This leads on to the magical appearance of a huge watery ball in the woods that he calls the Ocean. With his Lady friend from the dentist, his best buddy and his crush, they set out on a journey of discovery, and we follow his (entirely logical) research investigations. 

Aoyama is a precocious adolescent, brimming with self-confidence, but facing the challenges of bullying at school. The Lady at the dentist is part of this complex mystery and we are never sure whether she is an alien or magician. Whichever, Aoyama is quite obsessed with her chest, although without really knowing why – in some ways, he is quite naive.

The penguins are utterly adorable, while the Ocean and Jabberwockies (the latter after Lewis Carroll) are extremely scary. What really carries the film though, is its gentle humour, there are so many laugh-out-loud moments. And just when you think the film cannot be more endearing and charming, the next scene moves you even more touchingly than before.

You could take the narrative to be about the environment, but it is really more complex than this. Ueda’s plot unravels at a perfect pace while Ishida’s direction carries the narrative along at a fast pace.

Whether you are a long-term anime fan, or new to Japanese animation, Penguin Highway will have you chuckling and being wowed in equal measure.  A delightful story and a visual treat.

Reviewed on 4th November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Delightful story & a visual treat

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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