Director Hiroyasu Ishida & Producer Hibiki Saito: Drifting Home Interview

As a movie about kids getting lost at sea in an old apartment complex of all things, the upcoming anime film Drifting Home was already destined to attract many curious viewers. But even without this main draw, it still would have deserved to be a critical success, for this poignant tale masterfully delves into a difficult rite of passage that everyone is forced to experience at least once in life: having to move away from home and all the pain that this entails. Director Hiroyasu Ishida (Penguin Highway) decided to explore this transitional moment with a beautifully rendered metaphor that Producer Hibiki Saito helped make possible by assembling a highly diverse cast of voice actors and more.


While not entirely necessary, the old apartment complex that transports these characters into the unknown is actually quite crucial to the story, for it embellishes the very real struggle of those who desperately hang on to the past while their loved ones try to help them move on. Viewers who watch the anime Netflix film upon its release on September 16 will undoubtedly see how the otherworldly experiences these characters undergo serve as a means to illustrate just how the act of one person letting go of their home can completely engulf everyone in that person’s life. But most especially, the movie chillingly conveys just how completely a person can lose themselves in the past if they are unable to embrace the new life that’s out there waiting for them.

To explore these themes and how they came to be, Screen Rant participated in a Zoom interview with Director Hiroyasu Ishida and Producer Hibiki Saito, as a highly trained translator shared Ishida and Saito’s thoughts on this unmissable anime film from Studio Colorido (Penguin Highway, A Whisker Away).

Warning: spoilers for Drifting Home!

Screen Rant: For me, the apartment complex as a boat lost at sea is a perfect metaphor for the past literally becoming too powerful to escape and how one can easily get lost in the past completely. That said, this metaphor could have been captured in a number of ways. Why was the image of the apartment complex being a boat lost at sea chosen?

Hiroyasu Ishida: So it is, indeed, an idea that’s quite out there, but it’s not like it was premeditated. It wasn’t like, “Someday, I am going to tell a story about a drifting apartment building when I was a kid.” It was really an idea that I arrived at when I was drawing, sketching and moving my hands. I came upon an image of an apartment building floating around, and I thought, “Oh, this is something that we could tell a story with or perhaps make a film out of.”

Screen Rant: That goes into my next question perfectly. Did you always want to tell a story about losing one’s home?

Hiroyasu Ishida: Again, this theme that you speak of was not necessarily premeditated. It wasn’t like “I am going to create a story about nostalgia of one’s hometown some day.” But I can say that subconsciously I have this strong sense of attachment towards my own hometown. Of course, this is something that everybody harbors, but I think I myself have a stronger sense of attachment to the home and hometown where I grew up. I spent my childhood days in a certain town and then my college years in another town. To me, they are all my hometown. That’s why I think it was natural that I ultimately arrived at the story we’re telling right now.

Screen Rant: For me, one of the most powerful scenes was when Kosuke is swimming after Natsume after she decides to go back to Nokku. The music is what really makes the scene so impactful. What led to you choosing Umitaro Abe for the music?

Hiroyasu Ishida: So Umitaro Abe was somebody I had worked with previously in Penguin Highway so I asked him to do this one as well because I did have this wonderful sense of trust in him. And in this scene that you speak of, the sun is setting and the hues of the scene are very red. We really wanted to evoke the sensibility of the emotions in that particular scene. Abe really answered in a really wonderful way with his composition. Now, the music you are hearing is very popular amongst the Japanese people, But I do believe it has some European history to it. Mr. Abe found a wonderful way to weave hints of a very popular tune we hear over speakers in Japanese shops and so forth when they need to close. For the Japanese audience, it really brings a sense of something is coming to end. So we played into that musical literacy, and it does give for a more dramatic effect that way.

Screen Rant: A great deal of the story depends on the interactions of the kids who are stuck in the apartment complex together. There are just so many personalities, like Reina’s hot-headedness and Juri’s calm reserve and timid nature. Choosing a diverse voice cast was pivotal, and they work so well together. What went into choosing them?

Hibiki Saito: So, in this piece, we had the cast members be, of course, professional voice actors who specialize in anime. What often happens with Japanese animation when it’s theatrically released is the producers or distributors will hire live-action actors to do the voice-overs for the anime which, in their own right, it does make sense. This time around, because of the situation you talked about, we knew that we needed very talented people, so we made sure all the cast members were people who can really lead a film. There were many other names we considered when we were doing the casting meetings among ourselves, but the cast members whom we ultimately arrived at were like five-second decisions where we couldn’t think of anybody else. So it was quite a quick process in terms of decision-making.

Screen Rant: From a creative standpoint, I’m interested in why the Ferris Wheel in Drifting Home was chosen to save Kosuke and Natsume. It plays such an important role in the story, and yet most of Reina’s past is shrouded in mystery even at the very end.

Hiroyasu Ishida: Reina was always a very important character because she draws comparisons between her and Natsume, which relativizes Natsume. We therefore wanted to include in the film something from her childhood – or, I should say, memories because she’s still a child. Also, I do have childhood memories of a Ferris Wheel. Back where I grew up, there was a Ferris Wheel from a local amusement park that I could see from afar from my home. So maybe that is imbedded in my memory as well. And what might have helped with the depiction of the Ferris Wheel was an amusement park called Toshimaen, which used to be located where I now live in Tokyo. Toshimaen had been in operation for 94 years, so it had a very long history. During the production of this film, it was reported that it was going to close, so I went to see it on its closing day, and it evoked in me a fun but also kind of bittersweetness.

Drifting Home Synopsis

Raised like brother and sister, Kosuke and Natsume have been friends since childhood, but their relationship begins to strain in sixth grade after Kosuke’s grandfather Yasutsugu passes away. One day during their summer vacation, Kosuke and his classmates sneak into an apartment complex that is scheduled to be demolished, and rumored to be haunted. Both Kosuke and Natsume grew up there, so the place holds a lot of memories for them. There, Kosuke stumbles into Natsume and is asked if he knows about the mysterious Noppo. But suddenly, they get caught up in a mysterious phenomenon.

When they regain consciousness, they see a vast ocean before them. As the apartment complex drifts in a mysterious sea with Kosuke and the others on board, they band together to try and survive. There are tears and fights, and maybe even reconciliation. Will they be able to return to their previous world? A summer farewell journey begins…

Check out our other anime film interviews, such as with Bubble director Tetsurō Araki, Inu-Oh director Masaaki Yuasa, and Dragon Ball Super: Super Hero voice actor Toshio Furukawa.

Drifting Home premieres September 16 on Netflix.

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