Pengin haiwei [Penguin Highway] (2018)

What we have here is a Miyazaki-esque Anime Fantasy/Science Fiction film for young viewers about Aoyama, a nine-year-old boy who is obsessed with, ummm…


Yes, you read that right.  Women’s breasts.  And he’s in love with One, the girl from the Dentist’s office because she, ummm…

Has an exceptionally large pair.


In a children’s film.  Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to be.

Only in Japan, right?

You see, there are a lot of strange things going on in a small Japanese town, and a lot of people have seen these Penguins just wandering around…

Yes, Penguins.  Flightless Antarctic waterfowl.  Stick with me on this one.

But what is even stranger about those penguins is that One can somehow wish them into existence — and they don’t need to eat. Then there’s the mysterious discovery one of Aoyama classmates makes just beyond a supposedly haunted forest.

Aoyama and his friends investigate, but it isn’t as harmless as they think it is, and the next thing you know, it’s threatening the entire town.  The authorities and the army rush in to help, but that doesn’t go so well and Aoyama and his friends may have to save them…

This is a singularly beautiful film, with a lot of very nice details and an intriguing idea behind it all.  It’s funny, and charming, with a lot of little eccentricities and a handful of interesting characters.  You have to love the animation which is detailed and has a lot of character — even when it comes to all those seemingly identical Penguins.  It looks very much like a Miyazaki film, but then most Anime films do these days (or at least the ones that get the most advertising).  Some of the more fantastic imagery, like the mysterious “Ocean” and the equally strange Jabberwocks, is remarkably well done, with the CGI animation almost seamlessly added to the hand drawn.

It’s one of those things the Japanese excel at, even if Hollywood struggles with it.

Another nice detail are all the notebooks of Aoyama’s research, which couple his notes with clever little drawings.  They are all in Japanese, but the subtitles give us enough information to understand the basics with the help of his drawings, and there really isn’t enough time to read it all anyway.

However, I have to point out how strange it is that One doesn’t really look particularly beautiful — she has an odd face, which is narrow and pointed, with weird ears.  Her body is awkward looking: a bit too wide at the bottom but with long, skinny legs.

I particularly like how one of Aoyama’s minor quests — “The source of Amazon” — turns out to have a startling and head-scratching solution which is never explained (and you can get some idea how strange it is if I point out that the same notion turned up in an episode of Land of the Lost!).

Makoto Ueda, who wrote two of my favorite Science Fiction comedies — Summer Time Machine Blues and Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes — provided the script, which is by turns funny, heartwarming and absurd.

Which doesn’t change the fact that it’s about a nine-year-old boy obsessed with boobs.

And that’s what I keep coming back to on this one: I really wouldn’t recommend this one for young children.  It is decidedly weird for a child this young to obsess over boobs (or at least it used to be.  Things have changed.  Children have been heavily sexualized these days.  Not that I think anyone should be encouraging that, either).  It is still light-hearted fun and quite entertaining.

Just don’t show it to the kids.

(Watch for free on Tubi)

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