(Sakasama No Patema)
Director/Screenplay – Yasuhiro Yoshiura, Producers – Michiru Ohshima & Mikio Ono, Music – Michiru Oshima. Production Company – Asmik Ace/Good Smile Company/Kadokawa/Directions.
Patema is a teenage girl living in a community of people in an underground city. She is curious about the world beyond that, which her father vanished while trying to explore. She ventures out into the tunnels in secrecy, even though she is warned away by others. During one such excursion, she sees one of the bat humanoids she is warned about walking on the ceiling. Fleeing from it, she falls down into a pit. Eiji is a teenage boy at state school in the surface world of Aiga, an authoritarian regime led by Izamura. He is startled when Patema emerges from the ground, clinging to a fence to avoid falling up into the air, terrified of the inverted world she is now in. By holding onto her upside down, Eiji is able to get her to safety in a nearby shed. They form a friendship but her presence is detected by Izamura and she is arrested by the security forces. In desperation, Eiji heads underground to Patema’s world where he is now the one who walks upside down. He makes an alliance with her people to conduct a rescue. Doing so uncovers the fate of both Eiji and Patema’s fathers and the truth about how the topsy-turvy world was created years ago by gravity experiments.
Patema Inverted was the second full-length anime for director Yasuhiro Yoshiura who had previously made the fine Time of Eve (2010) about a cafe where androids and humans mingle and the subsequent Sing a Bit of Harmony (2021). Yoshiura also made Patema Inverted: The Beginning of the Day (2013), a prologue to the film that was released online in four episodes of seven minutes apiece.
Patema Inverted has a surprising number of similarities to the live-action Upside Down (2012), which just came out the year previously. Both films deal with the collision between two different worlds in which gravity is the reverse of the other world – where even the inhabitants seem to have some mysterious gravitic properties that causes them to walk upside down when they are in the other world. Both films are also Romeo and Juliet stories about the improbable romance between a boy and a girl who come from either world. Patema Inverted at least offers up its premise with a marginally stronger patina of science-fictional plausibility than Upside Down did.
Patema Inverted starts out as a Conceptual Breakthrough work – not dissimilar to something like City of Ember (2008) – where the young heroine emerges from the underground to find herself in a world that is wholly alien to her. There are the striking initial images of Eiji sitting by the fence and Patema’s bag first coming up from the cliff face and she then appearing, left holding onto the top of the fence with her feet hanging up unto the air. Like Upside Down, the beauty of the film is in watching images of the juxtaposition of people standing upside down to one another. There is a particularly lovely scene where Eiji flees from the security forces, holding hands with her while she floats feet upwards in the air and they make an escape by conducting a graceful series of leaps across a crater of abandoned satellite dishes, using either’s reversed forces to counter gravity.
The premise could have done with a little more in the way of fleshing out – I, for example, was not at all clear why there was an entire city upside down in the sky. Is it the buildings that we saw falling upwards in the opening scenes, which we are given the impression were destroyed rather than still left intact, let alone with the lights still on, which tends to suggest that there is some human agency present maintaining the system? The pace is slightly slow but the shoujo romance at the heart of the story works nicely. The entire film arrives at a big emotionally satisfying uplift where the two loves succeed in thwarting the topside tyranny and bringing the two worlds together in peace.