Among a dazzling backdrop of a myriad colors, a young girl wearing a penguin costume interacts with goblins. This is just a typical scene from the animation film “Yona Yona Penguin,” set to open in theaters this Christmas.
The film marks the first time director Rintaro has taken on a full CG animation after over 40 years in the industry, producing such renowned films as "The Galaxy Express 999" and "Metropolis." Moreover, the movie 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 films,” Rintaro said. “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.” In fact, the movie is well on its way to accomplishing this goal: even before its completion, it had already received distribution offers from 16 countries around the world.
Also in attendance at a press conference for the film were the members of the voice cast: Ei Morisako, 11, who is known for her leading role in the drama version of “Chibi Maruko-chan,” actress Rena Tanaka, 29, and Hikari Ota and Yuji Tanaka, both 44, of the comedy duo Bakusho Mondai.
The film is about Coco (Morisako), a young girl who loves penguins and likes walking around town sporting her penguin costume at night. One night, she is unexpectedly transported to a penguin store. Coco is overjoyed at the sight of many colorful penguins, and does not realize that it is all a ploy crafted by a young goblin named Chaley (Tanaka) to lure Coco into his world. The goblins welcome her into their world with open arms, and refer to her as the “bravest of birds incapable of flying.” Coco must find out what that means, and deal 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 admiringly of Coco. “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.” Rena Tanaka discussed the obstacles she faced with her role, saying, “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.”
The two members of Bakusho Mondai filled the venue with laughter with their jokes. Ota jested, “We spent time with penguins for one year while we filmed ‘Nayo Nayo Penguin.’ I really like my character's caring and honest personality, although speaking French was difficult. (They did not speak French on set).”
Besides continually flinging his characteristic “tsukkomi,” or sarcastic gibes, at Ota, 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 a Japanese DNA would work out.” The world is set to find out this Christmas.© Japan Today