A group of children find themselves stranded in a derelict building floating through an endless ocean in this fantasy adventure tale. Kosuke (Mutsumi Tamura) and Natsume (Asami Seto) spent their childhood together in the same apartment block. Following the death of Kosuke’s grandfather Yasuji (Bin Shimada), the two have grown apart. As the summer holidays approach it seems that they are no closer to healing their relationship. Kosuke’s friends Taishi (Yumiko Kobayashi) and Yuzuru (Daiki Yamashita) drag him along on a ghost-hunting expedition in the now condemned apartments. They find Natsume hiding inside and are later joined by classmates Reina (Inori Minase) and Juri (Kana Hanazawa). During a storm the children are transported to a world where the only thing that remains is the building surrounded by a seemingly endless sea. They find another inhabitant of the apartment block named Noppo (Ayumu Murase) who seems to have a peculiar connection with the building. While they occasionally pass other floating buildings, there are no other people and the group begin to wonder if they will ever find their way home.
Directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, with a script by Ishida, Hayashi Mori and Minaka Sakamoto, “Drifting Home” is a simple yet effective children’s adventure tale, featuring magical elements, exciting action, and deeply emotional themes that will resonate with audiences young and old. The majority of the film takes place in the same block of apartments and other derelict buildings, with the cracked concrete overgrown with moss and weeds , exposed and rusted rebar, providing an impactful background for the story. Similar to the post-apocalyptic sunken cities of “Bubble” (2022), these spaces are recreated with details that make clear they have many stories of their own to tell. The film is also reminscent of “The Drifting Classroom” (1987), with its children lost in time and space, but here the actual mechanics of what is happening are more fairy-tale than science-fiction. The characters are enjoyable, with believable dynamics amongst the familiar stereotypes and entertaining conversations. This is helped by great voice acting, leaning into their exuberant, youthful joie de vivre. There is plenty of action too, with the computer-enhanced animation allowing for some amazing moments, such as the children climbing up the side of the building or ziplining across to a new rooftop, turning the commonplace structures into stone pirate ships. The incredible animation is bolstered by sound design that draws the audience into this world of pattering rain and crashing waves; and the score by Umitaro Abe is suitably epic, not shying away from the raw emotionality demanded by the story.
The film’s simplistic plot belies a depth of emotion and complexity in the interpersonal relationships between the characters. The reason for Kosuke and Natsume becoming friends, involving problems at home, and their falling out following Yasuji’s death, are both difficult issues for a children’s film to tackle, but are handled delicately. Running throughout the film is a melancholic atmosphere that is perhaps more likely to speak to an older audience. Noppo’s character, it is revealed partway through, is an anthropomorphic manifestation of the abandoned, condemned, building; one who yearns to be reunited with his former inhabitents, whose laughter made the building what it was. Perhaps the most tragic character in the story, there will be no salvation for Noppo, only resignation to his inevitable fate. The film asks us to contemplate what the places we are familiar with mean to us, do they posess a spirit or anima, that makes them more than simply a stage for our own lives. Noppo’s impending fate also symbolises for the characters their own loss of innocence and childhood’s inevitable end. As they move on with their lives, they are reminded of the importance of places that they know, and the very concept of ‘home’. “Drifting Home” manages to weave together a fun, action-packed story, with themes of environmental awareness and growing up.