Penguin Highway (Blu-ray)

August 14, 2019 7 Min Read

Review by: Jake Keet

Plot: What’s it about?

Penguin Highway was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Japanese Academy Awards. Director Hiroyasu Ishida had done several short films but this was his first feature film. Penguin Highway is based on a novel by Tomihiko Morimi and is adapted by Makoto Ueda who is best known for writing Night is Short, Walk on Girl. I have long been fascinated by Japanese culture and grew up watching a lot of Anime and Japanese films. With my interest piqued, I decided to check out Penguin Highway,

The film’s central focus is on precocious fourth grader Aoyama. Aoyama wants to be a famous scientist one day and he uses scientific methods to conduct research with his friend. He has feelings for a young woman that works as a dental assistant. In the afternoons she teaches him chess. When about one hundred penguins arrive in a field in his small town, Aoyama decides to investigate and is he,led along by his friend Uchida and a precocious girl named Hamamoto. They must also avoid the class bully Suzuki and his two sycophantic followers. While conducting research they discover that the young woman at the dental office can manifest penguins when it is sunny and bats when it is dark. On top of that, a strange orb has appeared in a field near the forest.

Penguin Highway is an enjoyable anime film that has a pretty light touch. It has a lot of imagination and there is no real violence to speak of in the film. The film is beautifully rendered with vibrant colors and incredibly detailed paintings of landscapes and the town. I can not fault the film for its inventive storyline or its visuals. That said, the film runs nearly two hours and for myself that was just a little long to spend time in this universe. I attempted to watch the title with my two boys but sadly they lost interest in the film. Their reaction made me feel like the film somehow failed to fully connect with either targeted audience fully. It is a little too slow for children’s attention spans and a little too childish for adults.

That said – I can not fault the film’s direction or artistry. The film is beautiful to look at. I love the way that the penguins were drawn and the seaside town in the film reminded me of some of the beautiful scenery I saw in Santorini. The film is also very pleasant and parents should not fear to show it to their kids (despite the young Aoyama’s infatuation with the dental assistant’s breasts, which just seemed fairly realistic if not wholly necessary.)

Video: How’s it look?

Penguin Highway arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.19:1. Like most digital animation titles, the film looks fantastic on Blu-ray. There are no compression issues and all the tiny details of the film come across perfectly. Watching the film on a large UHD television, it was very striking. Japanese animation made in the digital age is meticulously made to focus on the smallest details. The elaborate design of the town and the beautifully drawn forest scenes are highlights. The film visually delivers in spades – especially in the last third of the film. I don’t think that an UHD presentation of this film would move the dial at all. As it stands, it is essentially a perfect transfer.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Penguin Highway features a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for the original Japanese language track and the English Dub. Both tracks sound great. I watched the film in the English dub and the voice acting is very well done. The film has a pretty active audio mix – especially in the last third of the film when a lot of crazy stuff happens. This track should please fans and first-time viewers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Interview – director Hiroyasu Ishida, who seems incredibly nervous and shy, discusses why he was drawn to the project and how he put a lot of himself into the film.
  • Interview – author Tomihiko Morimi, who also seems very shy, discusses how he wrote the novel and how he came to trust the director with his premise. He seemed to be very pleased with the final results.
  • Past Works Promo – a quick run through from Ishida’s prior short films.
  • Music Video – “Good Night”

The Bottom Line

Penguin Highway is a beautifully done animated film with a lot of imagination. That said, it runs a little too long and failed to hold the interest of my two boys. The supplements included are decent and the transfers are superb. My recommendation would be to rent before you purchase, but fans of the film will no doubt enjoy seeing the film perfectly recreated in Blu-ray.

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