The newest anime film to hit Netflix, Drifting Home, is a surprisingly introspective adventure with a novel premise.
It's great for younger audiences because of the interesting combination of thoughts and images, as well as because of the themes of growing up and growing apart.
The film follows Natsume and Kosuke, two close friends who grow apart after the passing of Kosuke's grandfather.
Together with a group of their classmates, they discover an abandoned apartment building as the school year comes to a close. An unfortunate event whisks the gang away to a surreal world where they must learn to survive on their own while the building sails aimlessly on an unending ocean.
Even though the desert island/survive on their own concept is a cliche in children's fiction, Drifting Home stands out because to its fresh take on the formula and some gorgeous animation.
The film's biggest asset is the setting, which is frequently displayed to the audience in the form of wide shots of the sparkling blue water. It stresses the characters' segregation at every turn by presenting them with novel difficulties.
Studio Colorido, who created 2020's A Whisker Away for Netflix, has signed a three-picture deal with the streaming service.
Drifting Home is the follow-up to Hiroyasu Ishida's critically praised debut, Penguin Highway, and the second feature-length picture from that company (2018).
The gentle geometry and astute colour selection in Studio Colorido's Drifting Home are perfect complements to the film's nostalgic, almost infantile atmosphere. It's important to me that the film's visuals never felt too bright or harsh, even when our characters are in peril, and so I made sure that the ocean's blues, the children's pastel oranges and pinks, and the distant city lights all had the same fuzziness.
The naivety of the animation technique, combined with the surprise musical variety provided by composer Umitaro Abe, does a great job of evoking the joy of those first days of school.
Not every film in this genre can boast a cast as likeable as Drifting Home's main characters. Kosuke's friends Taishi and Yuzuru join them, as do Reina and Juri, two females from their class who are first unfriendly but are ultimately won over by Kosuke and Natsume.
All of the voice actors do a decent job, but nobody really stands out. The script is interesting and gives the characters just enough emotion without making them too dramatic or syrupy.
The movie does a decent job throughout of exploring some standard coming-of-age themes without neglecting its fundamental mystery (how did they get here, and how do they get home).
It accomplishes this by deftly switching between fast-paced, exciting sequences and quieter, more introspective discussions of childhood, parenthood, and family.
Consequently, Drifting Home is full of reminders of Kosuke and Natsume's youth.
Their residential complex, which they can't leave, keeps running into familiar structures from their past that have been transported to their surreal universe. The family goes on an adventure to the sports complex where they used to play soccer and makes a second trip to the department store where they bought toys following a fight at home.
In learning how Kosuke's family, especially his grandfather, took care of Natsume when no one else would, you feel a deep connection to him and Natsume, and you realise that they are the genuine emotional core of Drifting Home.
The building they are currently drifting through was Kosuke's childhood home, but more importantly, it was Natsume's safe refuge whenever she didn't feel secure in any other environment. The film's main conflict arises from their once close friendship and the distance that has grown between them, yet these issues are resolved in an artful and rewarding manner by the film's conclusion.
Drifting Home, like all good coming-of-age films, skillfully overlays some interpersonal stakes between people. The pain of betrayal and reprimand from trusted companions is comparable to that of the physical injuries sustained by the protagonists.
The charming Drifting Home is not, however, problem-free. A disorienting climax leaves the question of what actually happened uncomfortably open, and Noppo, a supernatural figure with ties to the forces that brought the kids to the drifting world, seems to have been lifted from another film.
When the film actually tries to make sense of its fantasy premise, rather than just using the idea of floating tower blocks as decoration, it falls flat.
A couple more creative survival strategies from the youngsters would have been great, too. What makes this subgenre of children's fantasy so interesting are the clever solutions the characters come up with to maintain their well-being in fantastical settings.
Last but not least, Drifting Home is a serviceable addition to Netflix's expanding anime library, and watching it with your kids on a Sunday afternoon isn't a bad idea at all. Just beware of the imaginative role-playing that will inevitably ensue.