"Penguin Highway," an anime about a young boy's mysterious summer adventures, opened at theaters across Japan on Aug. 17.
"I wanted to draw with all my passion a story about a pure and earnest young boy," said 30-year-old director Hiroyasu Ishida of his decision to make an anime adaptation of the fantasy novel of the same name written by Tomihiko Morimi. It was the first full-length feature film by Ishida, an up-and-coming animator who graduated from Kyoto Seika University.
The protagonist is Aoyama, a precocious fourth grader who keeps notes every day of new things he learns. One day, a colony of penguins appears in his town out of the blue. Where did they come from? Where are they going? As Aoyama and his friends start investigating the mysterious phenomenon, their findings lead them to a lady at the dentist he often visits…
Ishida, who had in mind the idea of a production of "young adult fiction centering on youngsters who tackle and overcome difficulties they face," came upon the novel a few years ago. At first he was baffled by the sometimes "philosophical parts" of the novel. But as he started making a number of "storyboards," attaching script lines to drawings of various scenes along the storyline that made the strongest impressions upon him, Ishida said he gradually "felt it could become an enthralling feature anime."
"Aoyama is a straightforward and candid youngster. But he is depicted by Mr. Morimi with unique 'twists' and the expressions are interesting,” he said. Special attention was given to making the most out of the humor depicted in the novel, such as by adding script to simple footage based on wide shots of the characters in order to accent the unique way the story is being told.
The script, written by Makoto Ueda of Kyoto-based theatrical troupe "Europe Kikaku," also helped make the protagonist stand out.
Another highlight of the anime is the grand perspective of the world through the eyes of the young boy. "For scenes that had few details (in the novel), I drew freely based on my own imagination," Ishida said. Take the anime’s opening scene for example. Taking hints from descriptions in the novel such as "lots of cute, brightly colored homes as if they were made with Lego" and "the entire neighborhood was speckless," Ishida created the visuals as if the camera was speeding through town like the wind.
A native of Aichi Prefecture, Ishida enrolled in Kyoto Seika University as he felt "Kyoto would be the ideal place for college life." Having spent slightly over four years there, he said, "(People in this city are) kind to students and tolerant of us in many ways. Kyoto is my second hometown."
While he currently resides in Tokyo, Ishida said, "We're now in the age of digital animation. I would love to produce with creators living in Kyoto, Aichi and various other regions.”