The story of one boy, and his very moe balloon.
Patema Inverted is the new movie by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, a fact that’d probably hold significantly more weight for me if I’d actually gotten around to watching the critically acclaimed Time of Eve at some point. It follows Patema, a girl who lives in an underground society where everyone is close and loving, but follow a set of rules – particularly regarding were you should and shouldn’t be going – to ensure everyones safety. Stifled by life underground, egged on by stories told to her by a long-missing friend, Patema, perhaps understandably (or at least predictably) flagrantly ignores what she is repeated told not to do and goes exploring.
After one such expedition goes awry, she ends up meeting Age, a boy from the overground society. The overground society is all about rules too – excessively so, infact. It’s a literal conveyor belt society, where students can accumulate demerit points simply by looking in an unapproved direction. Age is something of a rebel in his world, as well, though in his case, being a rebel can amount simply to not turning up to the dorms at the designated hour.
So far, so rote, but this is where Yoshiura throws in the twist – years ago, an experiment to harness the power of gravity where horribly, horribly wrong, and as a result, part of the population had gravities effect on them reversed. For Patema, Age’s people are weird batmen who walk around of the roof. For Age, the exact opposite is true. For Age, the sky is something to be looked at longingly, ever since his father died in an accident involving a flying machine. For Patema, the sky is a terrifying bottomless void she’ll plummet into the moment she doesn’t have anything or anyone to hold onto.
It’s a really silly sounding gimmick that sounds like it’d be hard to get over, but it’s really here where Yoshiura displays his directorial chops. Whilst the actual animation production has little that’d get sakuga fans all hot and bothered, it impresses in far more subtle ways – the sense of gravity, incredibly difficult to capture in animation, but absolutely critical to the content of the movie, is absolutely spot on. The way that Age moves, as if space-walking, whilst holding Patema as a counterweight above his head is really rather glorious.
The same can be said for the way a lot of the scenes are framed. The effect of having people standing on planes entirely opposite to each other is that there are a lot of neat camera tricks you can get away with doing, spinning the camera through 360 degrees wilfully as it switches between characters viewpoints, or successfully portraying characters confusion when suddenly faced with someone who literally views the world from a different angle as it inverts between cuts without warning. Beyond pure gimmickry, it’s used effectively to portray the sense of isolation or outright peculiarity Age and Patema feel when inhabiting each others worlds.
That said, Yoshiura isn’t beyond using his conceit for pure gimmickry, either, as he clearly has a pretty darn good understanding of the comic potential behind his oh-so-weird concept. There’s some really hilarious sight and gravity related gags thrown in there for good measure, and even the humour not tied the this central conceit mostly hits the nail on the head.
All this said, I have to admit, I came out feeling rather more lukewarm on the film than I thought I was going to after it’s absolutely masterful first act. The first twenty or thirty minutes of the movie is wonderful, and the ending would have been pretty good if it had come a lot sooner, but the impression that I got is that they struggled to find a way to stretch what was a great idea for the kind of short that Yoshiura was dealing with in the Time of Eve episodes into a full length narrative.
As such, most of the back-end part of the movie deals with the ramifications of those leading the totalitarian society that Age is part of catching wind that a pesky Invert has found her way to the surface. This isn’t problematic in itself, but they, or in particular their leader, is painted with far too narrow a brush to be effective. There’s a couple of almost throw-away lines in an attempt to explain his motivation, but, ultimately, he just comes across as being comically evil to the point of dragging the rest of the film down with him. I’m sure Yoshiura had grand expectations for this character, but they don’t really successfully come across, and rather than playing into the themes of the movie, feels more like an outright dismissal of them. Not only that, it beggars belief that someone with such clear ideological insanity would actually find themselves in power in a society so bent on sticking to the rules.
All this isn’t to say that there’s nothing to recommend about this movie – at least Yoshiura is trying to do something really interesting with this one, and it’s more successful at it than, say, last years NeraGaku, but for a movie that starts so incredibly strong, it’s disappointing that it let’s itself get bogged down so much in it’s middle and much of it final arcs.
Honestly, I’d still recommend seeing it when you have the chance – even if it’s not entirely successful, it’s someone trying to do something interesting with the medium coming from a place slightly different to the norm, and it’s interesting just to see some of the directorial and animation tricks that the setting allows. It’s just frustrating to see a good idea come so close to being pulled off perfectly, but not quite hitting the mark, though I suppose that’s a big ask for somebody’s first proper theatrical release. It’s also the kind of thing where I wouldn’t be too surprised if I pick up on something I missed that completely changes my impression on a second viewing, but then again, I am pretty thematically dense.