Asahiyama Zoo in Hokkaido, is the northernmost zoo in Japan. The unpopular zoo welcomes a new zoo keeper, young Yoshida (Yasuhi Nakamura), who has more affection for insects than people after years of being bullied at school when he was young. Yoshida soon realizes that Asahiyama Zoo is facing a financial crisis and the zoo director Takizawa (Toshiyuki Nishida) has been doing everything in his power to save the zoo from closing down.
Moved by Takizawa’s passion, Yoshida and other zoo keepers came to share the zoo director’s belief that one’s dreams can come true, and together they tackle this seemingly impossible task of revitalizing Asahiyama. A breakthrough arrives in the form of “Behavioral Exhibition,” a method that is pioneered by Ashiyama’s zoo keepers and which eventually makes the zoo renowned throughout the world.
Penguins In The Sky is based on a true story which happened to the Asahiyama zoo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Japan. As to how much of the events are dramatized and how many of the characters are fictional, we leave it to your own discretion.
This Masahiko Tsugawa’s directed movie tells the story of a young zookeeper, Yoshida who joined the dismal local zoo which is on the brink of closing. The zoo director has been persuading the mayor not to close it and turns it into a profitable theme park despite the dwindling visitors. And now it’s up to Yoshida and his fellow veteran colleagues to help brainstorm to keep the zoo alive.
Right from the start, the pacing is far from rapid and Penguins In The Sky for one takes its time to develop and introduce the numerous colourful characters in the zoo. Our main protagonist, Yoshida is a troubled child with a problem of his own. There’s the talented zookeeper who hopes to make a living by drawing some day, the friendly competition between the gorilla keeper and the chimpanzee keeper, the animal activist who happens to be the mayor’s niece and the never-seem-to-give-up zoo director, Takizawa (Toshiyuki Nishida). Thankfully, the movie is kept alive with enough lively banter between the cast and supposedly feature real animals that rivals any episodes from Animal Planet.
If you think the movie went overboard with thematic elements, its apparent true that the zoo actually had a case of Echinococcus which caused the temporary closure of the zoo and the death of a lowland gorilla in the 90’s. But then again, it’s not much of fun regurgitating facts for a movie then you might be better off watching a documentary thus I supposed Tsugawa took some creative license of his own to come up with other interpretation and happenings to lend some dramatic weight to his onscreen characters.
Unfortunately, this is where Penguins In The Sky fares slightly weaker. The character of Yoshida is paint as one who interact better with insects than human beings in the flashback sequences but at Asahiyama zoo, he didn’t comes across as one with behavioral problems in fact his colleagues seem to fit the picture better and the sudden death of a fellow zookeeper brought some unnecessary tension to this otherwise lightweight drama.
If not for the above issues, Penguins In The Sky will be the ideal teaching material for the kids. The younger audience will definitely be encouraged by the comforting fact that nothing is unachievable if you put your heart into it and yes lots of nice impressive shots of animals in the movie helps too. The Asahiyama zoo in real-life manages to turn in a profit and beats the Ueno zoo to become the most visited zoo in Japan with its introduction of many unique interactive animal viewing facilities in 2004.
As for the movie adaptation, I guess it didn’t stray far from the actual events. In the end, it’s not an exceptionally dramatic effort or an outstanding one to deserve a compulsive viewing.
This Code 3 DVD contains only the trailer
Some of the outdoor shots appear to be pretty soft but otherwise the visual on the whole is passable. With the exception of animal hisses and noises, the Dolby Digital 5.1 has little to offer as much of the movie is covered with dialog.
Review by Linus Tee
Posted on 18 January 2010