Penguins of war

Mike returns home from the Vietnam War with PTSD. He joins an underground fight club and wrestles with his own inner demons. Also: Mike is an adorable penguin, and this is one of the weirdest anime films to come out of 1980s Japan.

I try to limit this blog to topics that can be found on Wikipedia. This topic is not currently on the English Wikipedia, but there’s a nice write-up on the Japanese version and that’s good enough for me.

The history of this bizarre film involves Suntory (the manufacturer of Japanese whisky and beer), Seiko Matsuda (the Japanese pop idol), and Konami (the creator of video games such as Castlevania and Frogger). Online sources are vague and sketchy, so I’ll do my best to piece together the connections between them.

In 1984, Suntory made a beer commercial featuring a pair of penguins in a bar: one sings a wistful and sentimental song at the piano, the other sits and listens, overcome with emotion. And drinking a Suntory beer while he does so, of course. You can see the original commercial here:

The uncredited singer is Seiko Matsuda, probably the biggest pop idol to come out of 1980s Japan. And by big I mean BIG: between 1988 and 2000 she held the record for the most #1 singles in Japan. The advertisement was a huge success, and Suntory decided to follow it up with a feature film. In it, I suppose, they wanted to get to the source of Mike’s tearful remembrances. The resulting film, from 1985, is called A Penguin’s Memories: A Story of Happiness.

I don’t know why they decided to go with the plot of The Deer Hunter for their penguin anime, but there’s a lot I don’t understand about this story. In the opening ten minutes multiple penguins are gunned down from helicopter and Mike develops serious PTSD – the rest of the film is about him returning home and working through his experiences. It’s very serious, it’s played completely straight, and it’s kind of amazing. You can watch the whole thing on YouTube:

For some reason the two lead penguins, Mike and the singer / love interest Jill, look identical to characters in the early Konami games Antarctic Adventure and Penguin Adventure. I haven’t found the connection yet, although the latter game saw the debut of Hideo Kojima (the creator of Metal Gear Solid) so maybe he just liked the penguin war themes?

So there you go, these poor penguins went from beer mascots to war veterans to video game characters in the course of three years.

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