A tale of friendship, possibilities, and upside-down people that are actually right-side up or something similar to that effect. Either way, it is very pleasant movie, let’s just go with that general line of thought…
Title: Sakasama no Patema (Patema Inverted)
Studio: Purple Cow Studios Japan
Runtime: 1hr 39 mins
Genre: Fantasy, Sci-fi
Patema is from a civilization that lives in a system of tunnels and caverns deep underground. She likes to go exploring the world outside her village, despite being frequently warned of a mysterious danger that supposedly exists out there. While looking around in the “danger zone”, Patema is confronted by a figure standing on the ceiling, upside-down. She falls into a deep pit, and finds herself on the surface world, above ground, where she meets a boy named Age. They discover that the effect of gravity is reversed for Patema’s people; to Age, Patema is upside-down, while from Patema’s perspective, Age and his entire world are upside-down, which puts her in great danger of falling up into the sky.
From the imaginative mind that spawned Pale Cocoon and Time of Eve, Yasuhiro Yoshiura brings us another Sci-fi/Fantasy infused tale that is not about robots pondering their existence or searching for the mysteries of the past, but one about perspective. It’s shown the eyes of two characters from two very different worlds: Patema, a young girl that lives underground and makes it to the surface, a place she only knows from a single photo to meet Age (pronounced Eiji), a young man that dreams of the sky above. Where Patema initially sees Age as the one being upside-down due gravity being reversed for her, Age sees the same for her and thus, sets up the vast dichotomy and motif for the entire film. So, if you don’t mind the absence of sapient robots or some guy probing a computer for hours on end for a product moderately muddled in subject matter – Patema Inverted is actually not that bad.
However, beyond who is in which position, the dichotomy also extends to the societies themselves: Patema lives in a world closer to community trying to survive without ironclad standards where Age lives closer to a dystopian nightmare; everyone is forced to conform and keep to the status quo in a world that seems to be in a technological regressed state. The only similarity between the two is the avoidance of contact, an unspoken rule Age and Patema shatter as learn from one another and open each others eyes to new possibilities. In Age’s case, one lost possibility now found since the unfortunate death of this father. At this point, that is where most of the differences end and the rest of the film focuses on the developing relationship of the duo supporting each other as they try get Patema home evading the Machiavellian surface society, and Age ultimately learning how things became the way they are, and the reveal of his father and Patema’s long lost friend. It isn’t quite the emotional or exciting joyride I make it out to be, although does manage to hit level of storytelling that doesn’t become that monotonous.
Sadly, while film does play around with an interest topic even in a basic format, the characters themselves are somewhat blasé that it make it slightly disappointing, yet also bit tough to set through as the film begins to the reaches the conclusion. After hearing the main antagonist (Mr. handlebar mustache dictator) give his cheesy lines so many times, I thought I was watching a Disney movie. Seriously, look at this guy! James Bond villain candidate material walking. Although, many of the supporting roles are just as so. My affection for Disney cinema aside, the movie does very much feel like one with minimal violence, stifled romance that is more akin to friendship, and the very present idea of “there is more than out there in the world if you only look up”. There is also the rare opportunity for a little of humor, too. It does very much feel like a kid friendly flick and not a bad idea if you do decide to plop down to watch it with friends, nieces/nephews, little ones, girlfriend/boyfriend. It works for almost any age group and demographic.
While the plot itself seems like an arbitrary detail, Yoshiura does put that gimmicky device to good use and slowly seems like natural apart of the film. The shifting of the camera angles are done very conservatively, so it does feel more authentic than a gimmick as it also makes the artwork stand out and other properties such as lighting. There is nothing too special about the characters designs or even animation, but the overall backdrops and illustrations for the assets do a great job of setting the mood. The soundtrack by Michiru Oshima is also very well-done, bearing close signatures to Sora no Woto or Full Metal Alchemist: a very strong percussion section for some of the more “intense” (read: dramatic) moments to more subdued areas using light woodwinds, strings, and the occasional trumpet for other miscellaneous task. The original Japanese voice-overs are pleasant, yet the English track is just the same. The roster is not that crazy or unreasonable with voice actors/actress picks sounding familiar like Cassandra Morris playing the role of Patema and very similar to that of Ritsu in K-ON or Totori for Atelier Totori to more discreet ones like Chris Niosi as Lagos.
In too many ways, Patema Inverted does remind me of the quote by the Sufi poet Rumi: “You were born with wings. Why prefer to crawl through life?” There so many possibilities out in the world, we should seek them all out and share them. The world is all one. It isn’t a very elegant soundbite nor does the film itself do it in the best respect either, yet it does make it endearing as well as very palatable for anyone. Again, it is nowhere close to Yoshiura‘s other intellectual purists and really doesn’t need to be enjoyable, yet does meander on clouds without it for awhile. Other than that, it is an experience you couldn’t ask much from, but does yield a droplet more than you think you would receive.
Pros: Interesting concept, nice soundtrack, aesthetically pleasing artwork and directorial style, family friendly,
Cons: bland characters, film drags on near the end.