Longer version of review first published in LittleWhiteLies
As a genre which reflects and defamiliarises everyday societal tensions through a glass darkly, dystopian fiction is always inverting the world as we know it – but in feature anime Patema Inverted, written and directed by Yoshiura Yasuhiro (Time of Eve), the inverted world assumes an unusually literal form.
Curious what lies beyond the underground community she inhabits, Princess Patema (voiced by Fujii Yukiyo) falls down a forbidden shaft and wakes in Aiga, a topsy-turvy land where the biggest danger, besides the constant possibility of plummeting upwards into the sky, is the totalitarian regime determined to eradicate ‘Inverts’ like herself as ‘sinful’ abominations. Patema meets an Aigan named Age (Okamoto Nobuhiko) who – like his late father – has always dreamed of flight, and together they try to escape the clutches of Aiga’s tyrannical ruler Izamura (Hashi Takayi), while also getting to the bottom of the long-buried interrelationship between their two worlds.
‘Dizzying’ barely begins to describe the effect of Patema Inverted, which flip-flops between two opposed sets of gravity and two contrasting worldviews, while repeatedly switching its visual orientation along a vertical axis so as to leave its characters literally hanging and its viewers never sure which way is up or down. As Patema and Age cling onto each other to avoid falling in either direction, an unusual narrative of empathy, understanding and co-dependence emerges. The reciprocity of their relationship is expressed in the upended, ’69’ position that the two adolescents must adopt to survive together. It is all very innocent, although there is definitely a perverse sexuality in the adult Imamura’s sadistic desire to be in absolute control (and ‘on top’) of the much younger Patema – even if he professes horror at the idea of ‘impure’ miscegeny between ‘Invert’ and Aigan.
It is a lesson in relativism, as competing viewpoints are reconciled only through mutual respect and a global outlook. This contrasts with Aiga’s isolationism, xenophobia and self-righteous aggression, making it a mirror to Japan’s own pre-war history, before the nation eventually reached out in more cooperative spirt to the other side of the world.
Anticipation: Is Yoshiura the next Miyazaki?
Enjoyment: A very new (double) perspective on a familiar tale of two cities.
In Retrospect: The disorienting concept is more interesting than the characters.