Patema Inverted is a science fiction anime, and it’s a difficult movie to talk about without spoilers. I’ll try to be careful, but if you’re allergic to spoilers, beware.
I saw this as part of the Seattle International Film Festival, which I would guess is the only way it’s going to play in theaters here, unless it’s also shown at an anime convention or the like. It’s enjoyable mindfuck of a movie that keeps inverting your sense of what’s up and what’s down. The basic set-up is that two groups of people — one living underground, the other on the surface — experience gravity in the opposite direction. This premise doesn’t make a lot of sense, especially since it seems to be passed along genetically, ahem, but it’s nonetheless explored in a serious and entertaining way. Patema is the adolescent daughter of the dead Chief of the underground world, and she falls to the surface world, where she meets a boy her age who doesn’t fit in with his conformist, totalitarian society. They begin to figure out the nature of their strangely polarized worlds.
The characters are kind of cookie cutter, to be frank. Like a lot of anime, the story is aimed at an adolescent audience, and so it’s a bit twee. But the artwork and music are great, it has a nice sense of humor, and the science fiction scenario is used to produce a number of conceptual flips that generate a genuine sense of wonder. At the end I felt that a number of important things had been left unexplained (perhaps a sequel is intended?), but I didn’t care, because the trip had been so engaging. It does a great job of creating a sense of the arbitrariness of up and down, and of finding mind-bending perspectives from which to view the paradoxes in the gravitational scenario. The world is turned upside down over and over again, creating a tumbling sensation that leaves you uncertain where you stand.
The formulaic characters probably drag this down a bit (a metaphor straight out of the movie), but it’s well worth a look for the animation and the conceptual twists. I’m now curious about director Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s other films.