I absolutely love Patema Inverted. It is another fantastic entry to Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s line of directorial works with an interesting plot and an amazing ending.
The film follows two character, Patema and Age, who come from completely different societies. Patema is a princess living in an underground society. She is in line to be the next leader of this tribe-like group. Age lives on the surface world, in an Orwellian society calling itself Aiga. Led by a religious fanatic and kept in power by his Kerberos lookalike secret police, Age is expected to fall directly into the image dictated by his Glorious Leader. The big difference between the two, however, is that Patema (and her people) are upside down. As in, literally, When Patema comes to the surface world, she is floating to the sky and is only saved by Age. In order for her to live on the surface world, Age takes her to a cottage where she stands on the ceiling.
The story oddly reminds me of the novel series Left Behind. In Patema Inverted, the government of Aiga basically claims that Patema is part of a groups of sinners, and as punishment they were cursed to float to the sky. They call this event The Great Change. The people of Aiga are basically what’s left of humanity. The Aiga and their apparent rule of the rest of humanity, the whole concept of people flying to the heavens for their supposed religious sins, and the religious function of the Aiga’s leader really reminds me of certain stories; that is, a world government setup by an anti-Christ, an apocalyptic event, and a select few sent into the sky (“heaven”) for a religious reason; further, Yoshiura even meshes it with science fiction. I always love works that manage to explain the same narrative from a (albeit fictional) scientific perspective and a religious perspective. It adds believability while simultaneously being mythological or even epic. It does not perfectly mesh into the Left Behind series, obviously, but I think the religious elements, meshed well with science fiction, result in such an interesting take on an already interesting premise.
I will say that the premise alone is a big determining factor in one’s enjoyment of the film. The film does not make a joke of its premise, but instead presents it as something that everyone in the setting believes. The film never pokes fun at the ridiculousness of itself, as in “haha, yeah, this is kinda stupid, but just watch and it will get better!” Obviously, to me, this whole concept is a little funny – and I will admit, despite how much I love this film, there were some instances that I laughed at the absurdity of what was presented. However, never does the film stray away from its commitment to its premise. In fact, it uses it to very useful affect.
The ending is perhaps one of the most satisfying endings I have ever seen in anime. Not to spoil it too much, but the ending is basically ironic. It reminds me so much of a certain Kate Chopin short story, that I nearly jumped out of my seat. Not only because of that, but because it managed to genuinely surprise me. It comes off as a plot twist, but Yoshiura had already thrown a couple of those at the audience that by the time I got to the ending I was baffled. Those earlier plot twists are barely even talked about by the characters, and are almost ignored, so the final revelation at the end brings together so many seemingly insignificant details so that the final revelation is that much more surprising.
While I do love the ending, there are some bumpy roads. Patema herself is not that significant; in fact, I think she is almost useless. I am frustrated that her impact on events was so minimal, and that she acted very much as a supporting character to Age. Patema is the first major role of the voice actress Yukiyo Fujii. To be honest, she is not a bad voice actress, but her character is the high-pitched voice, which I despise.
Another frustrating character was Lagos, who was very important but is barely in the film at all. Patema is obsessed with him, especially after his disappearance. However, the film does a poor job of explaining why she likes him so much. And, in fact, once we do find Lagos, not much attention is paid to him, and is almost kinda forgotten. Lagos is a MacGuffin – a plot device that serves only as a motivation. However, my frustration lies in the film’s simultaneous attempts at trying to make me care about this elusive disappear-o-tron. In a flashback , Yoshiura attempts to create a heartbreaking farewell scene between Patema and Lagos. The films refuses to explain why Patema is so upset about this; she is just upset about it and that is as far as that goes. Lagos is a MacGuffin, but the film tries to make him sympathetic; he is a character that is given very little development or explanation, but whom we are told is an emotionally important person to Patema. The result is their relationship comes off as very forced.
Yoshiura’s cinematic style does take a bit of a departure here. He plays with the depth-of-field quite a bit, and honestly I think he went overboard with it. Another thing I noticed, a few scenes looked like they were heavily inspired by the work of Mamoru Oshii. Mamoru Oshii loves to have segments of his movies devoted towards setting a certain mood. I cannot really explain it well in words, so here are some examples: as it was in Patlabor 2 and in Ghost in the Shell. Heck, even Hideaki Anno used it in Evangelion 2.22. There are a couple scenes like those in Patema Inverted. I just love watching those.
The music was done by Michiru Oshima, one of my absolute favorites. She also did the music for Sound of the Sky, which perhaps my favorite soundtrack of all time (at least in anime). Her music is golden. Most of the music is memorable, but I think “Father Floating in the Sky” is the most memorable.
All in all, Patema Inverted is a wonderful film. It has an interesting story, great music, and a fantastic ending. It suffers from poor character development and the animation is not fantastic for a film, but it has its good parts and even so Yoshiura can make it look appealing. In terms of eye-candy, actually, I would say that this one is the most boring of his works, as it lacks the interesting character designs of Aquatic Language or the atmosphere of Pale Cocoon. Still, I would say that this is a must-watch, particularly for fans of his previous works.