by Netflix Drift homethe latest animated film to come to the service, is a surprisingly thoughtful adventure with an imaginative premise.
An appealing mix of ideas and visuals, plus themes of growing up and falling apart make this a perfect film for younger viewers.
The film tells the story of two best friends, Natsume and Kosuke, who become separated after the death of Kosuke’s grandfather – an important figure for both characters.
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At the end of the school year, the couple and a group of friends find themselves exploring an abandoned building. There, a freak accident transports the group to a dreamlike world where the building sails through an endless ocean and they must learn to fend for themselves.
The desert island / surviving on its own configuration is a pretty familiar premise in children’s fiction, but Drift home manages to distinguish itself thanks to a unique setting and a nice occasional animation.
This setting, often shown to viewers through huge, expansive frames of shimmering blue sea, is the film’s greatest strength. This poses unique challenges to the characters and reinforces their isolation at every turn.
Crafty anime fans might also immediately notice the in-house style of Studio Colorido, which produced At a glance for Netflix in 2020, and have now struck a three-picture deal with the platform.
Drift home too marks the second feature from director and writer-in-residence at this studio Hiroyasu Ishida, following his critically acclaimed debut Penguin Highway (2018).
The childish and nostalgic tone of Hom adrifte is wonderfully supported by Studio Colorido’s soft lines and clever use of color. The blues of the ocean, the pastel oranges and pinks of children’s clothing, and the distant city lights all have a blur – ensuring that nothing in the film’s visuals ever looks too bright or harsh, even when our characters are in danger.
This deceptively simple style of animation and a surprisingly varied soundtrack from composer Umitaro Abe do a lot to capture the feeling of good school days.
Drift homeit is The ensemble cast of central characters is also quite likable, which certainly can’t be said for all movies in this genre. Kosuke and Natsume and joined by Taishi and Yuzuru, Kosuke’s pals, and Reina and Juri – two distant girls from their class who are (of course) ultimately won over.
While none of the vocal performances particularly stand out, they’re all certainly serviceable. Importantly, all of the characters are backed by an engaging storyline that gives them just enough heart without getting overly dramatic or sugary.
Over the course of its run, the film does a fairly good job of balancing its central mystery (how they got here and how they get home) while exploring some classic coming-of-age themes.
It does this by cleverly switching between fun, action-packed scenes and slower, more intimate conversations about memory, growing up, and family.
To this end, the world of Drift home constantly presents Kosuke and Natsume with glimpses of their younger years.
The building they are trapped in regularly clashes with actual buildings from their past, transposed in one way or another into their abstract world. They explore the sports center where they played football together and revisit the department store where they bought toys after a family argument.
This duo of characters constitutes the true emotional heart of Drift home. During the filming of the movie, we learn how Kosuke’s family and his grandfather took care of Natsume when his own family couldn’t.
The building they drift into was Kosuke’s house but, more importantly, it was a refuge for Natsume when she felt unsafe elsewhere. Their friendship, and the way they broke up, provides the majority of the film’s tension, and by the end, Drift home is able to intelligently reconcile their differences in a satisfying way.
Like all good movies about growing up, Drift home also neatly layers some interpersonal issues between the characters. The betrayals and scoldings of close friends are just as pungent as the scrapes and falls the characters find themselves in.
But, despite all its charm, Drift home is not without problems. A confusing final act leaves the question of what really happened frustratingly vague, and the character of Noppo (a supernatural being tied to the forces that brought the children into the world adrift) feels like out of another movie.
In some ways, the film is at its weakest when it engages directly with its fantasy premise, rather than leaving the idea of floating towers simply as scenery.
We also would have liked to see some additional imaginative survival skills from the kids. A big part of what makes this kind of children’s fantasy appealing is the ingenious way the characters must stay happy and healthy in weird and wonderful environments.
At the end, Drift home is a perfectly passable entry in Netflix’s growing anime catalog – and certainly not a bad way to spend two hours on a Sunday afternoon, especially if you have young moviegoers at home. Watch out for the make-believe games that this movie is sure to inspire.
Drift home is available to watch on Netflix.