Leave it to Netflix to quietly put out a beautiful, Studio Ghibli-esque production in the form of Hitoyasu Ishida’s masterful Drifting Home. A searing, extraordinary examination on the power of friendship and the meaning of life, this animated gem is slowly-paced but gorgeously made. I was pulled in by the hand-drawn animation, and the eerie atmosphere of a haunted apartment complex—I was honestly not anticipating the sheer amount of emotional complexity that the creative team was able to accomplish.
It is summer break, and for fellow Soccer Club members Kosuke and his best friend, Natsume, it could be the start of a new adventure. Raised as practically brother and sister, the two have been inseparable for years. They grew up together at the Kamonomiya apartment complex. Now, something is different between them. A rift has formed after the tragic death of Kosuke’s grandfather that has yet to be repaired. Their once-home at Kamonomiya complex is set to be demolished. Their pals from the club, Yuzuru and Taisha, concoct a group research project with an obvious but somewhat brilliant name: Operation Ghost Trap! Headed into the restricted area that will grant them access to the haunted apartments, Yuzuru and Taisha are joined by Kosuke in their excitement to see the alleged ghost of a dead child…
To their surprise, the group discovers Natsume “napping” in the closet of the exact building she used to share with Kosuke. She claims that she is there visiting the mysterious Noppo, who is nowhere to be find. Local bully and queen bee bitch Reina shows up, with her sidekick Juri. Natsume and Kosuke quarrel with one another over a camera that once belonged to Kosuke’s grandfather, and just as Natsume is about to presumably fall to her death, a flash of light and pouring rain introduces some kind of crazy phenomena. The group awaken together still in the same building, but adrift at sea. Surrounded by water and drifting on a floating apartment building, they will all have to work together for any hopes of safely returning to land.
Natsume possesses hidden survival skills, and may know more than she lets on. Past traumas and disagreements between Natsume and Kosuke rise to the surface—they simply must be addressed during their time on the floating apartments, otherwise would we really have a movie? Noppo becomes vital to understanding the grander themes of the story, and even Reina may be more complex than she initially lets on. Reina initially seems a miserable ball of negativity, but is hiding past traumas of her own. Taken at face value, Drifting Home may look a bit silly or childish, but make no mistakes that it has great things to say about going through life adrift.
If I had any minor complaints, I would probably say that at nearly two hours in length, Drifting Home is a bit too long. It could have used tweaking and paring down to be more concise and straight to the point. I think releasing on Netflix will provide a wider audience for Drifting Home than many anime movies have seen previously. As the third full animated film from Studio Colorido (Penguin Highway, A Whisker Away), clearly they have already begun to establish themselves as wizened curators of excellent anime content.
Drifting Home drifts to its final destination—exclusively to Netflix on Friday, September 16th.