Patema Inverted – the animated feature written and directed by Yasuhiro Yoshiura and featuring the voice talents of Yukiyo Fujii, Nobuhiko Okamoto, Shinya Fukumatsu and Masayuki Katô – is a film which will, quite literally, turn the way you view the world upside-down.
Patema (Yukiyo) is the princess of a race of people who live beneath the world as we know it. Forbidden to venture beyond the safe borders of her village, she yearns for adventure and to explore beyond the restrictive confines of her insular existence. One day – following an encounter with a mysterious figure who suddenly appears above her on the ceiling of a corridor – she inadvertently falls down a shaft and into the world above, which she has heard so many terrifying things about. Here – because gravity is reversed for Patema and her people – she finds herself turned upside down and dangerously suspended above the ground. However she also meets Age (Nobuhiko), a boy from the outside world who has more than a few problems of his own to contend with. Together Patema and Age must overcome not only their own fears of what they initially see as people from an alien race, but also the prejudices and preconceptions of their respective races, if they are ever to move forward and live harmoniously in a brave new world.
Animated films have a builtin disadvantage, which many are seemingly unable to overcome – namely that they seldom rise above the fact they cannot be anything more than an imaginary rendering of the real world; no matter how hard they try to look realistic, they seldom manage to wholly evade an underlying air of faux authenticity. Even live action films which depend heavily on CGI, generally use it when wanting to depict something which cannot exist or be executed in everyday life. Animated films that work, embrace the surrealism of the art form using it to create worlds which, though utilising elements which are recognisable and familiar, leaven them with enough surrealism to retain an element of alien fantasy.
Such is the case with Patema Inverted. Here is world (or worlds) which could never exist. Huge steel and glass cities are surrounded by verdant meadows and wide open spaces on the upside, whilst deep below is another existence of echoing tunnels and passageways connected by precipitous bridges and suspended gangways. The joy of the film and one of the reasons it works so well, is the fact that it never tries to be anything other than a land of make-believe.
Reality – or your interpretation of it – is a theme which permeates all aspects of the film. Yoshiura’s story captures wonderfully the sense of what it is like to be lost in a world alien to your own. Patema and Age find each others versions of reality terrifying and mesmerising in equal measure, with each depicted on screen as both beautiful and sinister. The underground land where Patema lives, with its warren-like tunnels and hard, industrial appearance is as magical as the post-apocalyptic vision seen in Age’s world above, where green and pleasant meadows are ravaged by massive crater-like hollows and futuristic cities where what is left of the human race live in unquestioning, robotic subservience to the ruling classes. Interestingly – as with many films which attempt to visualise what our world may look like some time in the future – the lesser, ‘troublesome‘, factions of society (in this case Patema’s people) are depicted as bohemian and wild in their appearance and dress, as opposed to the more regimental, clean cut look of Age and his ‘advanced’ race.
Patema Inverted’s real joy lies in its visual embodiment of friendship and how the acceptance of things beyond our understanding can broaden and enhance our existence and the world as we know it.