Patema Inverted (2013)

If you can’t trust gravity, then what can you trust?

Adapted from a four-part Original Net Animation (ONA) series created and streamed in Japan in 2012 titled, Patema Inverted: Beginning of the Day, which now works as a prologue to the film, illustrating the first day of the entire story, Patema Inverted, or Sakasama no Patema, is the first feature-length picture to be written and directed by the young Japanese filmmaker Yasuhiro Yoshiura. Best known for his highly creative, often psychological, sci-fi fantasy animated shorts, or Web Anime, in particular the six-episode ONA, Time of Eve (2010), and his superb design work on Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance (2009), Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted is a richly inventive Japanese anime; an exhilarating tale of star-crossed love and overcoming impossible odds.

'I though gravity would never let me down.'
‘I though gravity would never let me down.’

Set in a distant, post-apocalyptic type future, Patema Inverted tells the story of Patema, a rebellious teenage princess who resides in a civilization that dwell in a system of tunnels and caverns deep underground; even though civilians live in dim, confined spaces, people wear protective clothing and lead quiet, peaceful and enjoyable lives. Patema however, likes to go out and explore the world beyond her own, despite being repeatedly warned of a mysterious danger that supposedly lurks outside the boundaries of her serene community. Patema’s favorite place to survey is a spot simply known as the ‘Danger Zone;’ a location her village officials prohibit townsfolk from ever entering. Even though Patema’s caretaker, Elder, frequently scolds her for venturing into this forbidden territory, Patema’s curiosity can not be held back, as no one had ever explained to her what the supposed ‘threat’ in the outer boundaries of their township was.

On one of her usual trips to the ‘Danger Zone,’ Patema is confronted by a looming figure standing on the ceiling, upside-down. Alarmed, and in an attempt to flee, Patema accidentally stumbles into a deep pit, and starts falling … upwards. Patema soon finds herself on the surface world, above ground, caught upside-down, where she is discovered by a thoughtful surface-walker; a young boy by the name of Age. The pair quickly learn that the effect of gravity is reversed for each of them; to Age, Patema is upside-down, while from Patema’s perspective, Age and his entire world are upturned, which puts her in great danger of falling up into the sky. Realising that gravity works in different directions for their respective civilizations, Patema and Age embark on a perilous mission, unraveling hidden secrets, and endeavoring to expose the dark forces ruling the worlds they thought they knew.

'Oh, what a feeling ... she's crawling on the ceiling?'
‘Oh, what a feeling … she’s crawling on the ceiling?’

As a film, Patema Inverted is rather complex and challenging, making this feat an assured and enjoyable piece of storytelling, as it explores two visually dissimilar worlds and some profound themes; notions of fear and perception. The first location, Patema’s residency, is a dark, cramped, underground dwelling of endless tunnels and shafts; this upside-down civilization is a place mostly shut off from the original gravity bound populace above, where the surface is considered a treacherous place and the sky is something to be feared. Atop exists a theocratic dystopia, a city named Aiga, which has been set up to make the sky and the idea of flying a subject of religious taboo, where under the command of its depraved tyrannical dictator, Izamura, everyone is taught that the reversing of gravity was God’s way of punishing the sinners, who attempted to misuse the Earth’s pull some years ago.

As Patema and Age learn about each of their respective worlds, they form a inspired friendship based heavily on trust, as Patema, in Age’s up-right world, is forced to rely on him to go anywhere without falling into the sky; this is also somewhat mutually beneficial to Age as it allows him to fly from his downward pull giving him a sense of lightness. The play on gravity creates many unique scenarios and situations where the characters are forced to rely on one another to use their opposing weights, achieving some very remarkable breakthroughs in the process — it gets even better when audiences discover that heavy materials in these worlds also have different gravitational pulls and using them correctly gives way for the possibility of anti-gravity flight which, because of the religion in Aiga, is outlawed.

Though dizzying at times, Patema Inverted skillfully evokes a fear of heights that the 2012 live-action Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturgess film, Upside Down — sharing a distinctively similar theme — could not achieve. In Patema Inverted understanding another’s point-of-view is an integral part of the film’s appeal, as a lush open sky can either be a glamorous escape or a deadly fall, and director Yasuhiro Yoshiura expertly plays with the camera’s positioning, placing it in thrilling locations that can either bring to mind feelings of anxiety, confusion and disorientation or beauty, wonder and awe.

'You don't understand the gravity of this situation!'
‘You don’t understand the gravity of this situation!’

Throughout the picture, audiences are shown that events which transpire are merely a matter of perspective — to Age, Patema is upturned, but to her, he is the inverted one — as the knowledge these character’s possess is based off what they have been previously taught, seeing things through their own viewpoint, rather than that of others. So Patema Inverted certainly aims at trying to get audiences to look beyond their narrow perspectives, considering the countless possibilities when peering through the eyes of others, suggesting that fear of the unknown might restrict us from seeing the ultimate ‘truth.’

When it comes to the characters, there is a real kinship between the two leads, Patema and Age, as the couple clearly share a common interest in discovery and their strong friendship eventually blossoms into a bit of young romance, as the pair must plainly put their lives, and trust, in the literal hands of the other, whenever they are together. With both of their fathers having a mysterious past, each involving a fascination with the sky which was planted into our heroes as children, as well as having a repressed upbringing, the pair’s relationships feels wholly organic and awfully genuine.

The animation, produced by Purple Cow Studio Japan, is nothing short of marvelous, with colorful skylines, splendid hand-painted backdrops, breathtaking scenery and gorgeous lighting, creating an astounding ambiance and detailed surroundings. The character animation is nice and fluid, as one would expect from a theatrical animation, while the effects and soundtrack all add to the immersive atmosphere engendered by the filmmakers; a particular scene towards the start stands out as an excellent use of sound, where audio, or lack there of, is used to interrupt the mood of the scene and provides some comic relief with solid comedic timing. While the character designs themselves are quite simplistic and somewhat generic, they work in aiding the narrative and its complexities, not drawing too much attention with their minimalistic intricacies or lack of detail.

Turn that frown ... upside-down!
Turn that frown … upside-down!

A twisted-gravity adventure, Patema Inverted’s biggest let-down is its grand scope, as the film attempts to uncover several, rather sizable, world altering revelations; the story would be better suited to a twelve-episode anime series, rather than a 100-minute feature, as more time could have been spent delving into some of the heavier themes, and exploring times gone by more explicitly, while elaborating on the tightly involved character relationships a little deeper.

A thought-provoking, original fantasy adventure that is sure to entertain, Patema Inverted achieves its objective in being an above-average, visually alluring tale that’s certain to leave an impression on patrons, regardless of age or gender; just be sure to take some motion sickness tablets prior to viewing, particularly if you’re not a fan of topsy-turvy roller-coasters.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Patema Inverted is released through Hanabee Entertainment