In his second anime feature, Drifting Home, which is now available on Netflix, Kosuke and Natsume are struggling to accept the loss of their former apartment building and their new friends.
The Kamonomiya apartment complex in a neighborhood on the verge of renewal, which is slowly being replaced by new water towers and industrial structures from the 1960s, is a remnant of postwar society. These haunted houses were initially planned for demolition and were reportedly occupied by ghosts from the start, but their friendship has morphed apart due to an exchange of poor-choice words and competing interests.
As the shots shift toward the past, Kosuke and some friends look at the old buildings in search of the ghost that haunts it. Instead, they meet Natsume and her strange new friend Noppo, who claims to be a former resident.
The crumbling apartment complex starts floating on the ocean like a raft, with what seems like no hope of survival before long. It's an unexpected moment that feels like real magic, tied up in concise editing.
The journey becomes a memory lane match between the two old friends about the things that will go against them. In part because of their shared interest with Kosukes recently deceased grandfather Yasuji, who lived in the apartments since they were built. And as Yasuji passes, so does the apartment, which could cost Natsume a future relationship with Kosuke.
The two children's lives are surprised at this point in their lives, so leaving a place and the memories it contains is like removing a limb, an idea Ishida and Mori play with in their script. Even the notion of impossibly castaway houses has seen a number of iterations in anime, most recently in the series Sonny Boy, directed by Shingo Natsume.
Drifting Home is different, because of the way Ishida and Mori pose the question: What if the characters' feelings toward the apartment complex were reciprocal? Noppo is the film's most peculiar magic touch, although his real nature is starkly revealed, yet the extent of his pain is profound. He laments his abandonment: Everyone is gone, but I'm still alive.
The intermingling of an entire housing complex who is attempting to rebuild their lives in jeopardy threatens no small amount of corniness: His bones are made of concrete rebar, and his skin is being reclaimed by plant life, much like an abandoned structure disappears under grasses, moss, and mold. It's interesting and often moving to see Ishida tackle the ways the children are confronted with these notions of impermanence for humans and places.
Studio Colorido's stunning animation (Penguin Highway, A Whisker Away) carries a lot of punch to sell the unusual setting. Structures shift and break with believable weight, although the driving action is about a raft building. However, Akihiro Nagaes's subtle and subtle language works well with the film's sense of danger, such as when Kosuke jumps through a corrugated iron roof and crashes through a room beneath like a pinball.
Drifting Home continues Ishidas Penguin Highway's research on childish indulgence. Both films have an even hand in portraying children, in all their capacities for both selfishness, selflessness, and even wisdom. Even seemingly grown-up insights will quickly fade into more childish feelings, such as Kosuke's being unable to assist Natsume in resolving his minor jealousy.
Ishida is interested in characters bickering and conflicting, without either side necessarily being in the wrong. Each of the characters has a different, less obvious personality, and the film progresses toward becoming more self-aware of their feelings and more empathetic toward their pals as they shed the myopic perspective of childhood.
The film doesnt quite manage to maintain a sense of serenity in a single location against a minimal background, particularly with that films gradually unraveling their scientific lens to its narrator. Despite that, the kiddies must hunt for food to survive as castaways.
Ishida and Mori do hit repetitive notes between the other characters with increasing frequency as they become more tightly wound from panic and scream at each other with increasing frequency. That tension wears out fairly quickly. However, at least such moments feel like a fairly plausible portrayal of children stranded on their own during a scavenging effort for food.
Drifting Home is well-done and thoughtfully executed, but there are times when the characters feel (appropriately!) lost at sea as they wrestle between youthful impulses and empathy for their friends. Nevertheless, the film is admirable for its patient dedication to unraveling the children's beliefs about each other, the structure, and other relics from their pasts, all as they learn how to carry their attachments and memories to new places.
Netflix is now streaming Drifting Home.