What if buildings had souls? This is the intriguing premise behind Studio Colorido’s 2022 supernatural teen-drama. If you loved “Penguin Highway” (2018) and “A Whisker Away” (2020) then you are on for a safe bet with this, the same studio’s third feature length movie. However, what should have been an enjoyable romp evolved into a mini-saga. It really struggles to get to the point. Why? Let’s explain. First, the story: (this may be a bit of a spoiler but not much of one) Noppo is an anthropomorphised teen-ghost that occupies an old apartment building scheduled for demolition. He is, essentially, the building’s ghost and it long overdue for his journey to the afterlife. He befriends a girl, Natsume Tonai, who used to live in one of the apartments and now returns to reminisce about her time there. The building holds happy memories for her. It was here she grew up with her best friend Kousuke Kumagaya and his grandfather, after her parent’s marriage breakup. She is having problems letting go of this happy past and now she feels she has nowhere to belong. Between this, and a heavy dose of teenage guilt, she has stopped talking to Kousoke - much to his frustration. On summer break he and his friends head over to the old building to go on a “ghost hunt” (hint hint) and come across Natsume. An argument breaks out between them and in the ensuing fight the whole apartment building is sucked to a remote ocean world far from land. They are literally adrift at sea… Where are they, why are they there and how will they get home?
The movie is gorgeous to watch and there are fair few moments that remind you of the magic of “Penguin Highway”. Unfortunately, it is spoilt by the way the middle-act is padded out unnecessarily. The script drifts (if you pardon the pun) from magical-teen-adventure genre into gritty-survival-nightmare. Things get pretty grim for these kids – nasty even. To make things worse they spend a lot of time shouting at each other and blaming poor Natsume for their woes. She plods around feeling sorry for herself and apologizing to everyone in a fashion that grows irritating for the audience. The story finally builds to what seems like a climax – but then isn’t – and after several false starts the story finally reaches a conclusion. Then, for want of something more profound to happen, the kids magically get whisked home. There are several characters in the cast who have no specific function in the plot. They have no back story and might as well not be in the movie at all. The audience is pretty clued up as to the nature of the coming-of-age drama unfolding between Natsume and Kousuke but boy does “Drifting Home” drag this one plot element out for way too long. It isn’t sophisticated enough and doesn’t carry enough emotional weight in its delivery. The story is only held together by its fine visuals and relentless action. This, all-told, was still a likeable film. It could have benefited from much tighter story-editing yet it still manages to get its central idea over the finishing line. It is chock full of ideas – maybe enough for two movies. Despite its obvious flaws most audiences will enjoy this. We did.