Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on October 2009
Against a backdrop of dazzling colors, a young girl in a penguin costume plays with a cast of goblins. That’s the kind of trippy fun to be found in Yona Yona Penguin, the new film by Japanese director Rintaro. With over 40 years in the industry, Rintaro has finally embraced computer-generated animation after producing such renowned hand-drawn films as Adieu Galaxy Express 999 (1981) and Metropolis (2001). Yona Yona Penguin, which is set to open around Christmas, is the product of a unique collaboration between the eminent French production company Denis Friedman Productions and the Japanese anime studio Madhouse.
“Growing up, I watched many French movies,” Rintaro said at a promotional event for the film. “I remember being deeply affected by them, which has made me believe that the impact of film transcends borders. By making this joint effort with France, I hope that I will be able to reach out to a wide audience.”
The movie is well on its way to accomplishing this goal. Even before its completion, it had already received distribution offers from 16 countries.
Members of the voice cast include 11-year-old actress Ei Morisako, who is known for her leading role in the drama version of Chibi Maruko-chan; actress Rena Tanaka (10 Promises to My Dog); and Hikari Ota and Yuji Tanaka of the comedy duo Bakusho Mondai.
The film concerns Coco (Morisako), a young girl who has taken to walking around town at night in a penguin costume. One evening, she’s waylaid by a young goblin named Chaley (Rena Tanaka), whose cohorts welcome her into their world and refer to her as the “bravest of birds incapable of flying.” Coco must find her way back home while dealing with Bucca Boo (Yuji Tanaka), a demon who threatens to take over the goblin world, and his accomplice Zammie (Ota), a grumpy angel.
“I like that my character is honest, intelligent and independent, although she has endured so much in her life,” Morisako said. “Coco would stand by her friends through anything, and she believes she can fly although it’s very difficult for her. Neither of us gives up easily.”
Actress Tanaka said she faced obstacles with her role. “I normally don’t get to act as a boy, so it was special. However, I had to fix many parts to make them sound more masculine.”
Besides continually flinging his characteristic tsukkomi, or sarcastic gibes, Yuji Tanaka said of his own character, “I’m not a huge fan of him—he’s just so evil. Although, there’s actually a brief scene where my character miraculously looks somewhat like an angel.”
All agreed that they were curious to see how the French audience would react to the movie.
“I put a lot of effort into making each scene seem as if it were coming out of a picture book,” Rintaro said. “With this movie, I really wanted to see how an animated movie with Japanese DNA would work out.”
The world is set to find out this Christmas.