Summer vacation was the pinnacle of every child’s primary school education, but what happens when a whole group of children suddenly find themselves lost at sea? The world they knew is rapidly changing, with the buildings they grew up with being torn down and friendships quickly changing as aging family members die. Netflix’s newest animated release, Driving Home, takes its feuding protagonists and puts them in a situation where if they don’t overcome their differences, they and their friends may find themselves in great danger. And above all else, they must learn to forgive despite being young and immature in the eyes of the adults around them.
In September 2021, a Japanese anime film titled Driving Home was officially announced by the streaming platforms to be in the works. It would make its big debut in Japanese theaters and on Netflix’s streaming platforms. Studio Colorido was to produce the film, and in April 2022 the company signed a contract to continue producing work with the streaming platform. Previously they had created Penguin Highway, Burn the witch, A whisker awayand cartoons. Hirosayu Ishida directs and wrote the screenplay Driving Home, while the score was composed and provided by Umitaro Abe. Although scenes are depicted with Japanese script and visually appear to be in Japan, dubbing was done for global distribution.
On Netflix, the film was released in a multitude of languages, with English and Japanese being the primary modes. The Japanese cast includes Mutsumi Tamura, Asami Seto, Ayumu Murase and Yumiko Kabayashi. All of the Japanese voice actors are well-known and established in the voice acting industry in Japan, and that trend is reflected in the English cast as well. Bryce Papenbrook, Cassandra Morris, Ben Diskin, Abby Trott, Cherami Leigh and Joe Di Maggio are all recognizable names in American voice acting who bring together a wealth of experience to make this film happen and portray the child protagonists.
An abandoned complex on the sea
Driving Home opens up with a portrait of modernization. Although set in the modern era, rather than a hundred years ago when people would have witnessed massive changes technologically and socially, the scene of this film is a city demolishing its buildings for more development projects. It places its protagonists as two young elementary school students, Natsume and Kosuke, who grew up with certain buildings around them throughout their short lives. The development projects suddenly become that much more real when the apartment building they grew up in is slated for demolition next. A remnant of Japan’s distant past, built when World War II was over for more than a decade, rumor has it that the building is now haunted. And as the characters will soon discover, it is haunted in a way that lingers on past glory and desolation.
This also reflects Natsume and Kosuke’s past relationship. Over the years, they have drifted apart, essentially becoming strangers, despite attending the same school and formerly being neighbors. Their mothers ask them about the other, leading to awkward conversations about how they should have thanked the other family and how they miss the other child. Their abandoned apartment complex and surrounding neighborhoods reflect the decay between the two; in the world’s search for something newer, something greater, everything has been left to rust and fall apart. There is some lingering animosity between the ex-friends, as when the other is mentioned by a parent or friend, it immediately becomes awkward and filled with tension.
One day, when all the school kids decide to check out the haunted apartments, Natsume and Kosuke fight on the roof in front of everyone, and a rainstorm suddenly increases in intensity. As Natsume falls over the side of the building, the rain becomes blinding and the building randomly appears to float in the ocean. With the children left alone on top of the apartment complex, now stuck in the middle of nowhere, a manifestation or ghost of the building itself named Nappo appears and joins the group. Without food, fresh water or supplies to keep them alive, Driving Home It seems like it could slide into the territory of a show like All of us are dead – minus the zombies – or a survival movie, but instead dwells on the emotional aspects of relationships.
As new problems emerge in their situation, the students must come together and figure out how to coexist in this new space. Old arguments come up again and again, whether it’s the source of the two friends’ break to begin with, or Reina, one of the female students, blaming Natsume for the situation they’re in. And maybe the whole this situation intended to humiliate students and allow them to heal their wounds. Natsume and Kosuke’s anger towards each other becomes increasingly childish and petty, informed by miscommunication and the tendency to point fingers when it comes to their traumas. At its conclusion, Driving Home is heartwarming, a message of reconciliation. It asks the viewer this: If you were put in this situation, would you also learn to forgive and forget?
A driving plot
Like many other anime, despite featuring some of the well-known dubs for anime in the English-speaking world, Driving Home leaves a lot to be desired. Compared to the Japanese version, the English dialogue came across as stiff, forced and unnatural at times. Text messages and everyday objects are still written in kanji, retaining some of the original cultural elements, although one character will casually mention going to Florida. The film, in these moments, seems to have a bit of an identity crisis, driving deeper the debate about watching with subtitles and the quality of dubbing in a completely different language, adapting it to new audiences. In addition, this film is for both adults and children with its themes and material.
No matter what sound you see Driving Home in, there are clear limits to what it means to have a growing age. Natsume and Kosuke are forced to hash out their emotions because there’s nothing else to do in this building, and it’s not like these kids are focused on basic survival instincts. Hunger is one of the many issues that pop up throughout the move, trying to raise the stakes a little higher and add some momentum. And like the other problems, they are addressed systemically as the children brainstorm methods to overcome their obstacles. There’s a lack of any real urgency to any of this, a kind of resolution of the film into more abstract and philosophical questions. Depending on who is watching, they may be frustrated by the lack of real answers when it comes to the fantasy elements.
Outside of being in the building they originally met in, the two don’t get on beyond basic conversations and arguments about what they used to be. Now, it might be refreshing to see a male and female protagonist not forced to pair up romantically, but that plot line is cleverly avoided by establishing that all of these students are children. There are plenty of merits to the film outside of its faults. The soundtrack adds to the overall mood in a way that works well, and the animation is of high quality. Its plot offers a lot of points to think about when it comes to memory, abandonment and the nature of our relationship with both people and inanimate objects, which is valuable in times of great change.
With a driving time of two hours, Driving Home starts to lose steam pretty quickly. The fantasy element of being lost at sea doesn’t work beyond being a convenient plot point that forces all the characters to discuss their feelings. It evokes the haunted atmosphere that the apartment complex must have with its shadowy corners and abandoned apartments, further isolated by the fact that nothing but other abandoned buildings, such as the department store, will occasionally float by. However, its characters tend to fall into the same actions, revealing their age despite trying to appear older than they are. They are young children lost at sea, and despite what adventures and heartfelt conversations are thrown at them, they tend to get lost in arguments and petty fights. But in the end they admit, “I’m glad to have known you.”
Driving Home is available to stream on Netflix from September 16, 2022 and released in theaters in Japan on the same day.