Released in 2022, Drifting Home is a 2 hour animated feature written and directed by Hiroyasu Ishida (Rain Town, Penguin Highway) and released on Netflix. It's an intriguing premise; a group of children find themselves floating on an old apartment building in the middle of a featureless ocean, with only their wits and the building's resources to rely on.
Studio Colorido have accomplished a wonderful feat of animation, with the building taking on a life of its own (literally), with so much attention to detail lavished on the dilapidated building that it's a joy just to watch the children explore their surroundings. Speaking of, the children themselves are beautifully realised, with each character having their own body language that emphasises their character and sets them apart. Bratty Reina is constantly tense, stomping around and throwing her head back in derision, Natsume is reserved and keeps her movements small and insular, while her childhood friend (and brother figure) Kosuke veers from indignant to cautious when approaching Natsume. There's a real life given to these children through animation that makes them so much more whole than voice acting alone.
Certain scenes are also mesmerising, in particular an early scene showing children running through the grounds of a building, the worn areas transcending time to show how they were in their prime, with families enjoying their lives nestled in the apartment block, their every interaction loving and wholesome. It's not only a brilliant piece of animation, but an assured and masterful example of direction.
I readily admit to watching the dub here - it's a long film and I'm watching on an iPad mini while working in Korea - so I didn't want to bother with subtitles. I'm glad I did too, because the English voice cast give a uniformly excellent performance, with emotional outbursts and heart-rending admissions all delivered perfectly.
Without giving too much away, the story as a whole deals with displacement, loss and heartbreak, leading to shutting out the world and struggling to cope with a reality you can't control. It's Natsume's feeling of guilt and loneliness that kicks off the adventure, estranged from Kosuke and vanishing for long periods. What I liked about the film is that everyone in the cast plays a worthwhile role, with the supporting cast also managing to make changes to better themselves as things become increasingly bleak.
The only flaw, and it's really a matter of opinion, is that I found the film to be a little over-long, with the dangers just constantly mounting and the resolution feeling a tad circumstantial. That said, the kids in the film think and act their age, with bonkers plans to replenish food and jury-rigged solutions often being ill-thought through but hugely brave in the way that only children can manage. There is a real cost to failure, which gives the film its tension, I could have just done with some tighter editing to shave 10-20 minutes off the runtime.
That's a nitpick however, as I enjoyed following the friends on their journey into the unreal, the haunting sight of old buildings passing in the ocean really sticking with me. The emotions are artfully showcased with moments where I was genuinely getting teary at the sheer innocence and heart that was sprinkled into the drama.
If you're going to watch the film, be prepared for a long-haul, but the payoff is ultimately worth it and the characters so well-served by the story that even Reina sines despite her spoiled tendencies.