The film was selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 56th Academy Awards, but was not accepted as a nominee. It entered into the 34th Berlin International Film Festival, and at the Japan Academy Awards was nominated for the best film, cinematography, lighting, and music score, winning the Popularity award for the two dogs Taro and Jiro as most popular performer, as well the cinematography and reader's choice award at the Mainichi Film Award. It was a big cinema hit, and held Japan's box office record for its homemade films until it was surpassed by Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke in 1997.
The original electronic score was created by Greek composer Vangelis, who had recently written music for Chariots of Fire and Blade Runner. The soundtrack is available worldwide on CD-audio as Antarctica.
In February 1958, the Second Cross-Winter Expedition for the Japanese Antarctic Surveying Team rides on the icebreaker Sōya to take over from the 11-man First Cross-Winter Expedition. Due to the extreme weather conditions in Antarctica, Sōya can not get near enough to the Showa Base and they decide not to proceed with the stay-over.
The First Cross-Winter Expedition retreats by helicopter, but they have to leave 15 Sakhalin huskies at the unmanned Showa Base. The dogs are left chained at the base, as the team believes that they will soon be returning, but the men are unable due to fuel shortages. The team is worried about the dogs, as the weather is extremely cold and only one week of food is available.
Meanwhile, eight of the fifteen sled dogs manage to break loose from their chains (Riki, Anko, Shiro, Jakku, Deri, Kuma, Taro, and Jiro), but the other seven are not so fortunate. As they journey across the frozen wilderness of Antarctica, the dogs are forced to survive on their own feces, hunting penguins and seals on the ice shelves and even eating the excrement of seals for food. As months pass, several of the dogs die or disappear in the glacier. Riki is fatally injured by a killer whale while trying to protect Taro and Jiro. Anko and Deri fall through the ice and drown in freezing waters. Shiro falls off a cliff to his death, and Jakku and Kuma disappear in the wilderness.
Eleven months later, on 14 January 1959, Kitagawa, one of the dog handlers in the first expedition, returns with the Third Cross-Winter Expedition, wanting to bury his beloved dogs. He, along with the two dog-handlers Ushioda and Ochi, recover the frozen corpses of seven dogs, but are even more surprised when they discover that eight of their dogs have broken loose. To everyone's surprise, they are greeted warmly at the base by two dogs, Taro and Jiro, brothers who were born in Antarctica.
It is still unknown how and why the brothers survived, because an average husky can only live in such conditions for about one month. In the movie, the director used the data available, together with his imagination, to reconstruct how the dogs struggled with the elements and survived.Ken Takakura as Akira Ushioda
Tsunehiko Watase as Kenjirō Ochi
Eiji Okada as Chief Ozawa
Masako Natsume as Keiko Kitazawa
Keiko Oginome as Asako Shimura
Takeshi Kusaka as Morishima Kyōju
Shigeru Kōyama as Horigome Taichō
So Yamamura as Iwakiri Senchō
Jun Etō as Tokumitsu Taiin
Kōichi Satō as Toda Taichō
Shin Kishida as Kissaten Master
Takeshi Ōbayashi as Nonomiya Taichō
Shinji Kanai as Ozaki Taichō
The film took over three years to make. It was filmed at the northern tip of Hokkaidō. The dogs in the film were sired by Kuma, a Sakhalin from Furen and were born in Wakkanai, Hokkaidō, some footage was shot in Antarctica in the summer of 1982 using dog teams from Scott Base (New Zealand).
Antarctica was entered into the 34th Berlin International Film Festival. The film was a big hit in Japan, becoming the number one Japanese film on the domestic market in 1983, earning ¥5.9 billion in distribution income. As of 2007, the film is available on DVD in Japan (Japanese subtitles) and Hong Kong (Chinese and English subtitles).
The breed of dog also became briefly popular. However, concerns were raised that the dogs who took part in the filming might have been subjected to extreme conditions to obtain the degree of realism involved. The American Humane Association withheld its "No Animals Were Harmed" disclaimer, rating the film "Unacceptable" due to what it regarded as deliberate cruelty on the set. The director responded that the emotions shown by the dogs during the film were painstakingly captured and then edited into the relevant parts. In order to recreate the death scenes the dogs were carefully anesthetized. The parts where the dogs drowned or fell were done in the studio and blue-screened with the actual filming location. The blood on the dogs was fake. It remained unclear whether the deaths of the prey animals (a seabird and a seal) were also simulated.
In 2006, Antarctica's plot was adapted into the film Eight Below (although in the 2006 film six dogs survived in the 1983 film two dogs survived). In 2011 a Japanese drama titled Nankyoku Tairiku centers on Japan's first expedition to Antarctica in 1958.
The original score to Antarctica was composed, arranged, produced and performed by Greek artist Vangelis. It was recorded at Vangelis' Nemo Studios, in London, UK, by sound engineer Raine Shine. The album was released worldwide (including Japan) as Antarctica.
The younger brother Jiro died at the age of four during the fifth expedition in July 1960. His body was made into a specimen and is placed together in the National Museum of Nature and Science at Ueno, Tokyo. The older brother Taro was luckier: he returned to Hokkaido University for his retirement, and died at the age of 15 in 1970. His body was also made into a specimen at Hokkaido University.