Patema Inverted Dir. Yasuhiro Yoshiura

[GKids; 2014]

Styles: anime, dystopian sci-fi
Others: The Place Promised in Our Early Days, Elysium

With the death of the great Satoshi Kon in 2010, Hayao Miyazaki’s recent retirement, and the now uncertain future of Studio Ghibli (reports of it fully shutting down were followed by the slightly more hopeful, yet still distressing, news that it is “housecleaning” and restructuring), fans of thoughtful, complex, and thrilling Japanese animation have much less to look forward to than they did just a few years ago. Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted seemed like it might be a breath of fresh air to reinvigorate our hope or perhaps even announce the arrival of a director who may help carry the torch that has started to dim. Its premise — a world that due to excessive scientific experimentation had its gravitational pull temporarily reversed and those few still affected by this live upside-down in an underground community hidden from those above-grounders who ultimately would like to destroy them — certainly had the potential for greatness or, at the very least, the probability of some beautiful dystopian imagery. Unfortunately, not only is its narrative clunky and heavy-handed, but its characters remain frustratingly one-dimensional and even its most beautiful moments are ruined by an excessive grandiosity where a bit of modesty would have gone a long way.

The film begins with the overly curious Princess Patema finding herself increasingly more fascinated by the world above that her elders tell her to avoid and eventually falling down a shaft that lands her in the upper world where she is both upside-down and in danger of floating upwards into the sky due to the inverted gravitational pull. How a reverse gravitational pull could contain itself within certain victims and not the atmosphere itself is never addressed, but as speculative fiction, I was willing to go along with it. Once Patema found herself in this strange, newly discovered world, she meets a young boy, Age, who is fascinated with flight (something that is banned by the fascist regime now in charge, who instruct the youth to keep their eyes toward the ground) and finds Patema’s affliction both intriguing and helpful towards his own desire to go airborne.

This burgeoning friendship between Patema and Age, along with the duality of this world and the central conflict between the “inverts” and proto-fascists, should have made for an intellectually and emotionally engaging ride, but Yoshiura’s film lacks the graceful tenderness of a Miyazaki film and the visual flair and cerebral profundity of Kon. Obviously, it’s unfair to hold all anime films to the standard of two of the greats, but Patema Inverted is all the more disappointing because on a conceptual level, it’s essentially a slam dunk. There a few scenes of Patema and Age escaping the fascists or others that highlight how disconcerting and disorienting it is for the characters when they are out of their own gravitational comfort zone, but then the film just keeps repeating them, almost verbatim, with swelling music and slow-motion, asking the viewer to behold how spectacular it is time and time again. Had the film explored the scientific nature of the catastrophic event in more depth or developed the Patema-Age relationship at all beyond what was established in their first couple scenes together or spent more time examining the struggles of the inverts below ground or presented the villains as more than caricatures, Patema Inverted may have done enough to forgive its glaring faults, but as enjoyable as it is in fleeting moments, it never amounts to much of anything. Unless you’re jonesing for new Japanese animation, you’d be advised to reverse your gravitational pull and steer clear of this one.

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