The world of anime is a strange one, specifically for the range of subjects and worlds they have created throughout the decades. The medium can be truly overwhelming, with so many stories, characters, and universes that one can get truly lost and never see your way out. For those that watch anime, the medium brings something that nothing else can. Western animation and even live-action cannot fathom the richness of the anime stories, and so, Netflix knows there is an audience here to satisfy. Let’s review Drifting Home, a new anime film that arrives at Netflix this weekend.
Drifting Home is an anime film written and directed by Hiroyasu Ishida. The film tells the story of Kosuke and Natsume, two young kids who have lived all their lives in the same apartment complex. The two of them have been friends all their lives as well. One day, their apartment complex suffers a strange event, one where it seems that the rest of the world has transformed into a vast and endless ocean. Kosuke, Natsume, and the rest of the kids will begin a journey to return to their world while saying goodbye to their childhoods in the process.
Drifting Home is directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, and produced by Studio Colorido. Ishida has made a career out of directing fantastic shorts that try very hard to capture that Studio Ghibli feel that we all know and love. Meanwhile, Studio Colorido has also proven that they are capable of delivering those quality visuals that remind you of Studio Ghibli. What I want to say is that both the director and the animation studio behind this movie want to be Studio Ghibli, but sadly, while the visuals are there, they still lack that emotional punch that makes Ghibli so memorable.
Instead, and very much like Ishida’s previous film “Penguin Highway”, Drifting Home ends up being a film that feels distant and very much unfocused. While in Ghibli films, the characters have amazing adventures or go through very meaningful developments in their normal lives. The kind of moments the audience can empathize with, the characters in Drifting Home, end up feeling very much alien to the audience. It is true that most of them are just young kids, but they feel more like ideas of how kids are than how kids actually are.
This is not to say that Drifting Home is a bad film, not at all. When it comes to visual storytelling and managing to create a new world with wonderfully looking characters, great attention to detail in the environments, and more, well, this movie excels. Studio Colorido might be new, and they lack the experience that so many other more famous studios have, and yet, they are able to pull off impressive visuals in almost every scene. You don’t need to go for maximum effects every time, and they know when to turn things down, but they also know when to show off.
So, visually, the movie is quite solid, even more than solid actually, you could say that visually it is a great movie. The problem comes when we have to deal with the story, the characters, and their emotions. Every regarding this aspect of the movie feels very tepid and without the strength, it really needs to amount to a memorable experience. It is hard, that is for sure. Creating emotions in the audience is a hard thing. Most films fail constantly at doing it, but in Drifting Home the failure is almost palpable. This is a shame because you can see that the filmmakers are really doing their best.
Ishida and his team really need to make a deep study of why we love Ghibli films so much. Colorido already has the animation prowess to create powerful visuals, but why can any of its films reach that level of storytelling? What is missing? What could be missing is the detachment we feel from the characters. Ghibli manages to pull us into the stories of their characters not by trying to be deep, but by being simple. You can watch a Ghibli film, and in almost none of them, you will find that the characters stop the story so that they can express their feelings through words. Monologues are forbidden.
Instead, Ghibli does all of this work through action, by showing that the smallest of gestures and words have a more powerful meaning. Ghibli is simple, and it is in that simplicity where the films find their power. You don’t need a degree in psychology to know that what is being expressed in a Ghibli film is true and sound because you have felt it too. Ishida and his team should try to go on this route the next time because at least for now it feels like they are trying too hard. So hard, that the feelings the characters are expressing can feel a bit unclear or even abstract.
Drifting Home has the best intention, but it seems like the Ghibli formula is still being cracked by other studios. It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of giants, but with Ghibli going into the sunset, it would be a sad thing if that kind of film would not exist anymore.