Winter Anyone? Have a Look at Nankyoku Tairiku

December 22nd is the first day of winter …

Yeah, storms are on the way.  They’re heading east after spreading their usual havoc over the Plains states of the US yesterday. Down here in Sarasota, FL – I’m not worried about snow. But I am traveling to the Northeast in 9 days, so snow is on my mind.

It’s one thing to travel up to Connecticut for the New Year holiday. But would you sign on to visit Antarctica? Thought not. But exploring Antarctica is what a team of Japanese explorers did back in the mid 1950″s. The Tokyo Broadcast System (TBS) just concluded a 10 episode series this past Sunday (Dec. 18th) about that trip. This series, called Nankyoku Tairiku was produced to celebrate the 60th anniversary of TBS and was their most expensive project ever.

Nankyoko Tairiku means Antarctica in Japanese. The series full title – Nankyoku Tairiku ~ Kami no Ryouiki ni Idomunda Otoko to Inu no Monogatari translated to English is Antarctica: The Story of Dogs and Men Who Challenged the Field of God.

In 1956, Japan was still in what was called the Post War Era. The nation was still struggling and when an international scientific organization set up an exploration of Antarctica, Japan applied but was initially rejected. After a lot of bowing, scraping, and begging – Japan was finally allowed to participate. But the territory that Japan was assigned was considered inaccessible.

But even getting the project started was problematical. A ship had to be found, financing arranged, and a crew assembled. There were objections because many wanted the money spent in Japan instead of for an exploration. But some folks with First – a vision for the future – that Japan could be once more welcomed into the community of nations if their exploration and creation of a base could be accomplished – and Second – some political clout, to get the project approved, authorized, financed, and started.

A ship was finally found but it needed a vast overhauling. There was a deadline for everything, money, the ship, the crew because the departure date was set in stone. The ship had to arrive in Antarctica by X date – to arrive at the beginning of the mildest time was paramount, and they had to do everything – arrive, make land, set up a base, and get out before the onset of the 9 months of winter.

Beside the crew, 19 Sakhalin Huskies were brought along. They would prove to be not only invaluable to the explorers, but they would provide the viewers with a set of heroes to care about and root for.

The series starred Takuya Kimura as one of the 11 members who not only endured the hardship of not just getting there, but getting the equipment ashore, and setting up a station that would enable them to winter over – meaning stay there until the ship could return for them the following year. The winter was filled with hardships – severe blizzards – ice breaking away along with the equipment sitting on it.

But they managed to make it through the winter over. When the ship returned, the weather was horrible. The Japanese ship got locked in the ice unable to move. An American ship had to come to rescue them. The American ship had to tow the Japanese ship out of the ice back out into the flowing ocean waters. Now, getting the men back on the ship required that they be airlifted with a small Cessna plane. Only four men at a time could be taken. The weather got worse and worse.

The dogs would have to be left behind for a few days until the weather abated. Only it didn’t abate and precious fuel was burned off. Then when they crunched the numbers they found that if they headed back – they wouldn’t have enough fuel to make it Capetown, South Africa. So the dogs could not be taken off the base.

Overall, this series was a wonderful story, filled with dramatic tension and heroes both of the human kind as well as those terrific dogs. For me watching a group of men sitting out a winter in Antarctica for scientific research wouldn’t be enough. But when they added in the dogs, then were forced to leave them behind due to bad weather the story grew quite interesting for me.

In January 1959, Kuramochi Takeshi, (this was Kimura’s role) and others joined a third expedition and they headed back towards the Showa Station to ascertain the fate of the dogs.

The production was quite costly and was actually shot in Antarctica. There are women in the series headlined by Haruka Ayase and Tae Kimura as a school teacher, and the parent of two children, whose dog Rikki, became the lead sled dog. We not only watch the struggles of those who did the winter-over, but the struggles of the families back home in Japan as they waited for news and hoped for the best.

Heartwarming and inspirational are terms that come to mind as do bravery, loyalty, perseverance, courage, and dedication. There will undoubtedly be a DVD Box set of this series, with English subtitles, and I will update this review when I have that information. I’m calling this a must see for not just folks who like an adventure, but it is also a must see for those who love and admire our devoted canine friends.

Update January 14th: DVD Boxed Set now available.


2 thoughts on “Winter Anyone? Have a Look at Nankyoku Tairiku

  1. If you like this film, I recommend you see Eight Below, a 2006 Disney feature film based on the true story of these heroic sled dogs.

    As a sidenote, when I worked for the USPS as a mailman, I had a 78 year old retired lady on my route who took a month long trip to the Antarctic in 2007. When I delivered her accumulated mail after she returned, I asked her how her trip had gone. Her reply: “I can’t wait to go back!”

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