As a child, moving to a new home can feel less like an adventure than facing the destruction of the known world. That apocalyptic feeling should seem overly dramatic in hindsight, but penguin highway director Hiroyasu Ishida takes it to heart and gives him a surprisingly literal face in his second anime feature film, drifting housenow streaming on Netflix. drifting houseElementary school protagonists Kosuke and Natsume are coming to terms with the loss of their old apartment building, when it suddenly heads out into the middle of the ocean with them and their friends on board.
In a neighborhood on the verge of renewal, with old housing complexes slowly being replaced by new water towers and industrial buildings, the Kamonomiya apartment complex is a remnant of 1960s post-war growth. Kosuke and Natsume they used to live in these “haunted apartments”, now slated for demolition and reportedly occupied only by ghosts. From the beginning, the slow disappearance of their home is a clear symbol of a friendship threatened by change and time. The two have grown apart due to an exchange of ill-chosen words aggravated by divergent interests and priorities.
A beautiful yet simple opening sequence retraces the friendship they used to have, traversing the area back in time to when the neighborhood was buzzing with life. Scaffolding, mold, rust, and weathering gently disappear as shots pan into the past. After a quick settling in at school, Kosuke and some friends travel to see the old flats in search of the ghost that is supposedly haunting them. Instead, they meet Natsume and his strange new friend Noppo, who claims to be a former resident.
Before long, a sudden downpour separates them from the real world, and the dilapidated apartment complex begins to float on the ocean like a raft, with what appears to be no hope of rescue. The same as penguin highway, Ishida stages an early coming-of-age story on the porous boundary between the fantastical and the mundane, with the world suddenly but seamlessly disappearing. It’s a weird moment that feels like real magic, tied to terse editing. That sense of strangeness is maintained throughout the film, thanks to Ishida and co-writer Hayashi Mori’s good instincts to avoid getting bogged down in the mechanics of what’s going on. The story is simply driven by feeling, not explanations.
The journey becomes both a trip down memory lane and a desperate confrontation between the two old friends over the things that stand between them. As they grope for mutual understanding, their friendship leads to more complications than either of them realised, in part due to their shared relationship with Kosuke’s recently deceased grandfather, Yasuji, who has lived in the apartments since their marriage. they built for the first time. Yasuji involved both boys in his hobby, photography, and became Natsume’s replacement for his own dysfunctional family. As Yasuji dies, so does the apartment, and Kosuke and Natsume’s friendship reaches a point of its entropy. Natsume struggles to let go of his attachment to the place, which could cost him a future relationship with Kosuke.
Change is surprisingly unfamiliar to the two boys at this point in their lives, so leaving behind a place and the memories it contains is like removing a limb, an idea Ishida and Mori play with in their script. The symbolism of young people becoming shipwrecked at a transient point in life, even the specific idea of impossibly shipwrecked buildings, has seen a number of iterations in anime, most recently in the series. young guyDirected by Shingo Natsume.
but drifting house is different, because of the way Ishida and Mori also ask: What if the feelings of the characters towards this place were reciprocal? Noppo is the film’s weirdest magic touch: he’s a lanky, vaguely creepy guy who seems to be the epitome of the apartment complex. Noppo’s true nature is heavily telegraphed, but the depth of his connection to the children is new and poignant. So is the extent of his pain. He laments his abandonment: “Everyone has left, but I’m still here.”
The anthropomorphization of an entire housing complex, which has its own journey to reconcile the process of losing Kosuke and Natsume to new apartments, threatens with a lot of cutesy. But the slightly morbid details of the story make it work: His bones are made of concrete bars and his skin is being reclaimed by plant life, much like an abandoned building disappearing under grass, moss and mold. Through Noppo, the presence of this post-war architecture becomes somewhat ephemeral, and it is interesting and often poignant to see Ishida address the ways children grapple with these ideas of impermanence, for both people and places.
The beautiful animation production of Studio Colores (penguin highway, A whisker away) does much to sell the extravagant premise. The structures move and break with a believable weight, although the driving action involves a building floating on the ocean like a raft. To a similar effect, the young characters are all drawn with light, smooth lines. Akihiro Nagae’s designs remain realistic even with the most fantastic figures that appear to children. Photorealistic background art contrasts modernity with mid-century post-war architecture, but Ishida’s direction doesn’t obsess over realism. It never feels at odds with the film’s sense of danger when the director hints at broad, sometimes stretchy, physical comedy about the characters’ interactions with these environments, such as when Kosuke boldly uses a makeshift zip line to reach an adjacent floating building. , hits the corrugated iron. ceiling, and bounces across the room below like a pinball.
Exploring both fickleness and childlike sensibility, drifting house continue Ishida’s work penguin highway: Both films show a balanced hand in portraying children, in all their capacity for selfishness, selflessness, and even wisdom. Moments of enlightenment are believed to be interspersed with immature impulses. Even seemingly adult realizations will quickly latch onto more childish sentiments, such as Kosuke being unable to help but derail the reconciliation with Natsume out of petty jealousy.
Once again, Ishida is interested in characters who bicker and clash, without either side necessarily being wrong. Each of the characters has another, less obvious side to their personality, and the film travels back to them, becoming aware of their feelings and more empathetic toward their friends as they shed the shortsighted view of the world that accompanies childhood. One girl, Reina, who increasingly moves into the focus of the film, is amusingly contradictory in this way: she comes across as the adult, pragmatic member of the group, but she’s also obsessed with roller coasters. She makes a big show of constantly bragging about her upcoming trip to Florida (even wearing a Miami t-shirt as a constant reminder), but it quickly becomes clear that her bravado is a childish bid for Kosuke’s attention. As a result, she becomes eager to take Natsume down at every opportunity. Reina is a window into Ishida’s compelling approach to writing children, often as capable of being self-absorbed brats as they are capable of direct and obvious wisdom, and never being villains in any way.
There is enough liveliness to drifting house that two hours in one place with minimal background doesn’t really feel like much of a stretch: the apartment is made to feel expansive, and the kids end up passing through other abandoned buildings that become opportunities for adventure. The film fails to maintain the intrigue in the same way that penguin highwayThe film’s hilarious avian antics do, especially with that film’s scientific approach gradually unwinding from its fantasy. But the adventure in drifting house it’s compelling nonetheless, making up for that lack of process with a very real danger, as the kids have to forage for food to survive as castaways.
Despite the generally strong character work, Ishida and Mori play repetitive notes among the other characters, as they become more tense in panic and yell at each other more often. That tension hits diminishing returns pretty quickly. But at least those moments feel like a pretty believable portrayal of kids stranded alone, especially during a race against time to find food.
While the overall ride is done smartly and sensibly, there are points where drifting house feels (appropriately!) a bit lost at sea, as its characters struggle between youthful impulses and empathy for their friends. Regardless, the film is admirable for its patient commitment to unpacking the children’s feelings for each other, the building, and other relics of their past, all while learning to take their attachments and memories to new places.
drifting house is streaming on Netflix now.