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Drifting Home Director Hiroyasu Ishida and Producer Hibiki Saito

by Lynzee Loveridge,

Studio Colorido is a studio to watch. The anime production studio has consistently put out impressive, emotional narratives whether its shorts like Paulette's Chair and Puzzle & Dragons commercials or coming-of-age stories like Penguin Highway. Director Hiroyasu Ishida follows up his film about cute Antarctica birds with another dip in the pond of magical realism.

“I'd been interested in setting something in an apartment complex for a long time,” says Ishida of Drifting Home's primary setting. “I've always had an interest in the look of apartment complexes. I have never lived in one, but I was always strangely drawn to those simple, square, white rows of buildings that looked the same.”

Apartment buildings became much more prominent in Japan in the 1960s, after World War II, when Japan was in the midst of rapid post-war economic and population growth, and Ishida based Drifting Home's apartment building in this specific 60s style. To get the feel of the apartment just right, the director went location scouting, visiting famous complexes in different areas, and even creating a detailed replica to reference while animating the film. These apartments, Ishida explained, “have a certain nostalgia about them and are old, but they have been renovated and people still live in these places, so they are still loved in many ways.”

Unlike the real neighborhoods of Tokyo, the Drifting Home apartment complex leaves our world for the next in a unique metaphor of what it means for the places of our memories to pass on after they're demolished. Anime News Network spoke with Ishida and the film's producer Hibiki Saito about moving on, growing up, and Ishida's affinity for water.

ANN: When the children are lost at sea, we come to find out that they're drifting in a sort of “afterlife” for places. Where did the idea of “what happens to an important place” come from?

Hiroyasu Ishida: I really came up with this concept through kind of a flash of inspiration. That flash of inspiration was this visual image of this apartment building just floating along the waters. The other artifacts in the film are as you described, but It really just started out with just this single apartment building floating along the waters. It's an idea that's quite out there, but in fleshing out the story, I had to figure out some kind of logic behind it and a reason for this visual imagery that I came up with. To serve that purpose, I did have to include other buildings, or other buildings from the past, let's say, in order to draw a comparison or kind of relativize the apartment building. So, what you're seeing there are certain buildings of a certain era that had served their purpose in their life, and now they're drifting along the waters to ultimately arrive at the other side.

ANN: What was it about an apartment at sea that you found to be a fascinating setting for a film?

Hibiki Saito: It's really this image board or this sketch that our director had shown us that really inspired all of us to embark upon this journey of making a film with him—this apartment complex building drifting along the waters. It was very inspiring that we were all able to come together and say, "Let's do this. Let's go with this. Let's just run with this," but the matter of fact is that we have to universalize this. Or rather, there were qualms about the fact that there are people who have grown up in a danchi apartment complex and those who have not experienced this kind of lifestyle. How do we bring the universality to that? There was a bit of trepidation there, but as our director has stated in other interviews, the danchi is just a metaphor everybody has in their hearts: a place that they had to say goodbye to or a place that leaves kind of an indelible memory in their childhood life.

In that sense, it does have a universal appeal, I suppose.

ANN: I was really impressed by the movie's opening sequence where we see the buildings under construction and then filled by tenants living their lives. Can you talk about the development of that opening and what emotions you wanted to convey to viewers?

Ishida: The opening scene was not something that was planned from the very beginning, nor was it included in script. Actually, it was something that I thought of midway through the production. So, as you can see, it doesn't have anything directly to do with this story arc that we're seeing in this film. Instead, it was a way to kind of cushion and lead the audience into the film and make them feel safe that it was indeed okay to embark upon this journey. That's why we decided to include it. We wanted to ascribe some meaning to it, of course, and not necessarily have it unrelated. What we wanted to do with the scene was to try touch upon what it is like to bring a sense of closure to, for example, a danchi apartment building in which they used to live, or a place where they have to say goodbye to.

How do you resolve that and how do you bring a sense of closure within yourself? It's that kind of question that is posed with this sequence here. To speak a little more specifically, it is a question that we posed to the characters Kōsuke and Natsume in a way, by showing them the bright days of when the apartment building was inhabited with all of these residents and it was very lively and everything. By showing that, we're kind of asking a question: are you ready to say goodbye to this place? Are you two ready to march forward? That's kind of the sentiment that went behind that sequence there.

ANN: What would you say are the important emotional themes of Drifting Home?

Ishida: What we're ultimately depicting came from a struggle; as you can see this in the opening sequence as well, it's really all about bringing closure to certain junctures in our life or certain places that we have to say goodbye to in order to march forward. "Is it okay for us to be forced to do this alone?" is another question that we're asking here. Of course, if you are someone who is very strong-willed, maybe you can weather that transition alone. But we're all human beings, and we all survive these transitions through our interconnectedness and by supporting each other. That's what I wanted to also capture in this film. It's very important to have support and be supported, and also show your vulnerabilities so that you can ask for help.

It's good to have that with you as you go through your transitions, go through your goodbyes, or go through these certain junctures in which you have to ultimately face the truth. Looking back in retrospect, I think I did have this need to tell a story about this process or these emotions.

ANN: The weather at sea and water are prominent fixtures in the film. How did you develop the animation and look of the sea, storms, and waves?

Ishida: I have a certain sense of sentimentality towards rain and water, it seems. This might come from my childhood, because at any kind of celebration or event it would always rain. This didn't leave me with a sense of regret or frustration. The rain seemed to bring a calming and very soothing effect. I think that my work is infused with this water, this rain, as it is in the Japanese title [of the film], "A Drifting Home that tells of the coming of the rain."

Saito: With this film as well, whenever we try to do an event, it always rains [laughs].

Drifting Home is now streaming on Netflix.

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