Starring: Kana Kita, Yû Aoi, Miki Fukui
Director: Hiroyasu Ishida
Running Time: 118 mins
Penguin Highway is a Japanese film about a boy whose small town becomes mysteriously overrun by penguins, so he sets about resolving the mystery, where all the signs of his research point towards one woman.
If this isn’t the most adorable film of the year, then I don’t know what is. With a beautiful sense of wonder at every moment, brilliant humour, gorgeous animation, a touching emotional core, and an unpredictable mystery, Penguin Highway is one of the biggest surprises I’ve ever had when it comes to anime, taking fantasy, coming-of-age drama and everything in between and mixing into one immensely entertaining and endlessly delightful movie.
Whatever you’re looking for, there’s certainly something that you will love about Penguin Highway, and that’s testament to the film’s incredible depth and diversity of genre, as it goes beyond simple fantasy like some animes, and instead brings both a powerful and riveting emotional story, as well as consistently hilarious humour throughout.
Of all that, it’s hard to really pick out what stands out most about Penguin Highway, but what I definitely can’t ignore is the film’s stunning mystery, which not only proves a hugely entertaining one, but also one that’s filled with riveting twists and turns from beginning to end.
A fantasy story filled with wonderment and awe is something that the likes of Studio Ghibli were experts at for decades, but bringing genuine unpredictability into play is something a whole lot more impressive. While the film does a beautiful job at giving you that unparalleled sense of wonder, I was stunned by just how fascinating the central mystery was, and as you follow the diligent Aoyama-kun as he attempts to get to the bottom of why penguins are appearing all over town, the story deepens and deepens to an exceptional extent.
And what’s even better is how that side of the story so effortlessly links in with the film’s main emotional core, which largely focuses on a coming-of-age story that sees the occasionally precocious Aoyama understand more and more about the world around him – not just through books, but through an incredible and life-changing adventure.
As a result, while the film proves an endlessly entertaining adventure, what really solidifies it as a great piece is the emotional depth it brings to the table. With the wonderful relationship between Aoyama and an older woman at its centre, Penguin Highway is filled to the brim with relatable and heartwarming drama, and as we see the stakes of the investigation rise throughout, the film’s emotional power grows accordingly, completely wrapping you up in its wonderful and enthralling world.
While the film excels in its fascinating story and powerful emotional drama, there’s always room for the lighter side of things, and Penguin Highway makes no secret about being an immensely adorable film. Apart from the fact that the penguins themselves are insanely cute, the film is full of delightful humour that works brilliantly as a contrast to some of the more theatrical elements.
I was smiling and laughing right the way through here, and thanks to the screenplay’s excellent characterisation, as well as a whole host of strong voice performances, you feel so strongly connected to everybody on screen, something that proves enormously effective in making Penguin Highway such a stunning watch.
Overall, I loved every minute of Penguin Highway. It’s a hugely entertaining watch, with a surprisingly riveting and unpredictable mystery complemented beautifully by a powerful emotional core and coming-of-age story. Furthered by a brilliant sense of humour, adorable characters, and that typically gorgeous animation that only Japan can produce, it’s a film that will have you beaming ear to ear, all the while totally wrapping you up into a deeply engrossed state with its brilliant story, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.3.