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Drifting Home

Pre-teens somehow come of age in “Drifting Home,” a Japanese animated fantasy about a group of sixth graders who float out to sea in a haunted apartment complex. I say “somehow” because the lessons learned and friends gained along the way are never as interesting nor as well developed as the movie’s apocalyptic central premise: a tight-knit group of friends get lost in space—with no food and no fresh water—after a flash flood sends them and the otherwise abandoned Kamonomiya apartments into a vast and maybe limitless ocean.

The kids, led by de facto group leader Kosuke (Mutsumi Tamura) and his childhood friend Natsume (Asami Seto), inevitably discover that they shouldn’t take their loved ones for granted, but also should know when to let go. Unfortunately, the movie’s initial set-up is more compelling than these bubbly protagonists. A light tone is affected throughout, which makes the occasional outburst of disaster movie peril even more jarring. But yes, you read that right: there’s a new animated movie about a group of children who fall through a crack in the space-time continuum, and it’s not as good as that sounds.

Manga fans may find that the central premise of “Drifting Home” is reminiscent of The Drifting Classroom, Kazuo Umezu’s disturbing and imaginatively realized horror comic. In Umezu’s manga, a pack of grade schoolers become unstuck in time after an inexplicable catastrophe sends their school hurtling into a dystopian future. “Drifting Home” is considerably more light-hearted (and features fewer mutant spiders and child crucifixions).

In “Drifting Home,” Kosuke reluctantly follows his heedlessly curious friends Taishi (Yumiko Kobayashi) and Yuzuru (Daiki Yamashita) into the 60-year-old Kamonomiya projects. Kosuke is the most well-developed of these characters, mostly because he has loved ones beyond his platonic pals: recently deceased grandpa Yasuji (Bin Shimada) and overworked mother Satoko (Nana Mizuki). Kosuke still leads his friends in exploring the Kamonomiya apartments, despite associating the building with Yasuji, a former resident. Later on, Kosuke reconnects with Natsume, who has essentially been a surrogate member of Kosuke’s family for some years.

Also, there’s a pale wraith-like child haunting the Kamonomiya building; his name is Noppo (Ayumu Murase), and yes, he’s obviously a ghost. An over-explained and under-utilized dream logic unites Noppo and Kosuke’s group, most of it concerning Kosuke’s strong emotional attachment with Natsume. That connection barely matters beyond a point though. The group’s floating shelter occasionally runs into other rundown and (mostly) uninhabited locations, including a department store and other apartment complexes. These exploratory scenes carry the movie to its eventual payoff about two hours later. It’s not an easy transit, but “Drifting Home” eventually gets there.

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