Friday, December 11, 2020

Drifting Classroom

Drifting Classroom
Nobuhiko Ôbayashi

Sho Takamatsu (Yasufumi Hayashi) is a schoolboy who has a fight with his mom before running off to class. While in the midst of a song about the school principal marrying another teacher the whole school is catapulted into a strange desert landscape. The bottom floors fill with sand and strange monsters invade. Sho must try and hold together everyone in his school as well as find a way home, but there may be no way home after all. 

Drifting Classroom is a glorious mess. Tonally it is all over the place. Initially, it has the look of a Spielberg movie of the same vintage. The is a quality of light and a kind of joyous youthful vibe. Later there are weird musical numbers, cute monsters, and some light drama. Then the movie shifts gears and the horror and mystery settle in. That’s fine. Plenty of movies handle a major tonal shift, but then Drifting Classroom just keeps going. Broad comedy sits side by side with some graphic horror. Children die by the dozens, but hey there’s a romance subplot that seems cute, but then that ends in tragedy too.

I know there's a monster but I just keep staring at that kid on right's haircut.

A well-structured movie can navigate tonal switches, but this is not a well-structured movie. It is more a collection of moments that constantly pile on top of each other. It’s difficult to know what or who to invest yourself in, there are just so many characters and they all run around having their own disconnected moments. There is a struggle for leadership, there are romances, there is the mystery of what has happened to the school, and although there are a lot of the things happening none of them feel like they have anything to do with one another.

The look of film mirrors its jumbled narrative. We move from the cheery soft light of Earth to the strange bluish light of the school on the alien desert. There are some gorgeous sets and scenes, these run headfirst into the clumsy green screen and stop motion effects that don’t exactly take you out of the film because the whole thing never lets you forget its strange artificiality. There are some large-scale monster effects that clever and quite fun. The film certainly could have used a little more of their presence.


No more is the weird disconnected nature of this film more apparent than in its closing moments.  We have what is without question q tragedy of children trapped in a hostile environment and torn away from their families.  We get impassioned speeches by their parents about how this is a good thing, as they desperately try and force some kind of happy ending into place. While you are reeling from that the movie wallops you with a) an underage girl talking about how she is going to have another character’s baby and b) a black kid pouring sad out of an extremely racist bank. 

It’s a confusing mess but Drifting Classroom is an engaging mess at least.

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