Photo/IllutrationA scene from “Penguin Highway” where a lot of penguins appear in town out of nowhere (Provided by Toho Co.)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

With an illustrious career in animation already under his belt, newcomer director Hiroyasu Ishida has made his feature film debut with “Penguin Highway."

The animated feature film, adapted from a novel of the same name by Tomihiko Morimi, was released in theaters on Aug. 17. “Penguin Highway” portrays one summer of a precocious boy with vibrant imagery.

Ishida, who just turned 30, has won various animation awards including an Excellence Award at the Agency for Cultural Affairs-backed Japan Media Arts Festival for his animated short, “Fumiko’s Confession.” The short film, which came out in 2009 when Ishida was studying at Kyoto Seika University, was even sold on DVD.

“I recalled exciting feelings I received from movies during my childhood and packed them into the movie,” he said.

The story centers around Aoyama (voiced by Kana Kita), a studious and confident fourth-grader, who has made up his mind to marry an unnamed woman (Yu Aoi) working at a dental clinic in the future. But one day, penguins appear in large numbers in his town. When the woman throws a cola can in front of Aoyama, it turns into a penguin and the woman doesn’t know why either.

She tells Aoyama to solve the mystery, opening the door for the boy to go out on an adventure.

In his short film released in 2013, “The Sunshine of a Blue Autumn Shower,” the director expressed the romantic feelings of a boy by showing a swarm of flying birds. In “Penguin Highway,” a number of penguins fly into the sky with Aoyama and others to save the world at the climax of the movie.

The exciting adventure leads the boy to mysteries surrounding the woman he loves. Aoyama finds a mystical creature hiding in a forest and a transparent orb floating in the air in a grass-covered field, while he confronts his bully, enjoys a summer festival and experiences a typhoon. The low voice of Aoi, who speaks in a casual manner, accentuates the age difference between her character and Aoyama, as well as the gap between the woman and her true identity.

Ishida reminds us of “Your Name.” director Makoto Shinkai in some ways. He made his feature film debut with his latest project, which is distributed by Toho Co.’s department handling visual content businesses and is being shown on about 200 screens nationwide, although the director has only short films released on a limited scale under his belt. He also gained notice while he was working on his indie projects.

“I was baffled because my works got bigger and bigger in scale as I kept making them, but it is a pleasure to show my work to many people,” said Ishida. “I want to keep my feelings about genuinely enjoying making works, or something like initial urges, and continue making them.”