There are many images from Drifting Home that stay with you, but none more so than that of a ruined apartment block, floating through the middle of an ocean like a ship.
It’s an image that pretty much sums up the film as a whole: weird, surreal, imperfect, and — despite its faults — memorably beautiful.
Don’t go into the movie expecting a straightforward narrative, or a mystery with clear answers. But if you’re looking for a strange fantasy journey with some poignant moments, it might be just the ticket.
A Lord of the Flies mystery at sea
The plot of Hiroyasu Ishida’s Drifting Home is both simple and complex. The story starts with a group of school children and a dare to visit an abandoned apartment block building that’s set to be demolished. Two of the children, Kosuke (Mutsumi Tamura) and Natsume (Asami Seto), have their own complex memories of the building, as Kosuke’s grandfather (who took in Natsume after her parents’ separation) used to live there.
The children visit the building and climb to the roof, only for an argument to break out leading to a sudden accident. But before the worst can happen, the kids find themselves somewhere else altogether. They’re still on the roof of the apartment block, only now they’re floating in the middle of a vast ocean with no sign whatsoever of their town.
The animation in Drifting Home is beautiful
This sea-bound world is where Drifting Home really comes into its own. Kei Machida’s cinematography brings the ocean to life, alternating between expansive blue skies, blood-red sunsets and churning grey storm-fronts, with the apartment block clinging on through it all like some giant, crumbling life raft.
Some of the individual shots will make you want to pause the movie just to stare at them for a bit. It’s a film rife with poster opportunities.
Akihiro Nagae and Fumi Katô’s character design is also on point, bringing to life the mismatched group of school kids and evoking the rollercoaster of emotions they’re pulled through as they try their best to survive in this strange new world.
A story of survival.
The movie has a poignant theme
This idea of survival is one of the themes running throughout the film. Not just a physical survival, but also an emotional one. As we soon learn, Kosuke and Natsume aren’t just grieving their lost childhoods in the now-abandoned apartment block, but also the grandfather who lived there — the same grandfather whose death they’re still struggling to process.
Without giving too much away, Drifting Home is a movie filled with ghosts. It’s a movie about coming to terms with your past, and finding ways to move past the pain, no matter how difficult and complicated that pain might be.
It’s not a perfect film. The story feels a little drawn-out at times, and some of the characters are less developed than others. But for the cinematography and the moving moments alone, it’s worth checking out.