Directed by: Koreyoshi Kurahara
Starring: Ken Takakura, Tsunehiko Watase, Eiji Okada, Masako Natsume
For years this fact-based drama was Japan's highest grossing film -- not unreasonable, if you consider the current popularity, in our country, of March of the Penguins. Antarctica gives you not only penguins, but also sled dogs and Japanese explorers -- not to mention a Vangelis score (this last is perhaps a matter of taste). Actually, the penguins in Antarctica are hardly central to the story as characters, but they're around.
It's a fairly simple story about Japanese explorers in the Antarctic who are forced by circumstances to leave behind their sled dogs. A few of the dogs manage to break free of their chains and find their way temporarily into the outpost headquarters (being dogs, of course, two of them immediately get on a bed). After being tossed back to the elements, though, they form into a hunting pack with nothing but their survival instincts to depend on. The following year, two of the Japanese explorers -- wracked with grief and guilt over having left the dogs -- sign on to return to Antarctica, though they hardly expect to find any of their former charges.
Beautifully photographed, and put together with an eye for maximum audience appeal, the film suffers somewhat in its Americanized version, which was also shorn of about a half-hour of the movie's Japanese running time. The addition of a largely superfluous narration is one problem, since it spends much time guessing what the dogs are thinking and feeling in human terms, in a way that threatens to turn the movie into a Disney nature film, before then proceeding to distrust the actors to such a degree that the narrator tells us what the people are thinking, too! The dubbing is also not a blessing, since much of the dialogue delivery sounds like something out of a Godzilla picture.
It's a testament to the basic quality of the film itself that these drawbacks don't ruin the film, nor do they diminish its cumulative power.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke