Romantic cinema has always flirted with the idea of love turning lives upside down. In the case of Japanese anime Patema Inverted (サカサマのパテマ, Sakasama no Patema), however, that is quite literally the case.
The second feature-length film from director Yasuhiro Yoshiura, it introduces the concept of two worlds running parallel, the result of a botched scientific experiment that has reversed the effects of gravity. Thus, civilisation splits into the ‘real world’ and those that walk upside down under Earth’s recesses.
It is there that we meet Patema, a young princess of the underground determined to go above and see the sky.
Alas, Patema’s journey takes her into a world where the sky is an infinite drop and an oppressive, anti-inverts government rules. With no literal leg to stand on, Patema meets Age, a bereaved boy who feels equally trapped since his father’s death, and the upside-down pair unite in an existence gone topsy turvy.
It’s a strong concept, and one that – at first – is executed with subtle flourishes of self-awareness of the genre’s conventions, with one scene cutting the traditional sweeping romantic music of Patema and Age’s first meeting into a record-scratch moment of cynicism.
Sadly, it’s not consistent. Instead, the initiative wilts alongside the film’s ideas, with flimsy characters and a stock villain, with neither world developed enough to support the muddled narrative. For while the mystery of the world’s plight is intriguing, it is never backed up by a sense of pace, with most of the film feeling like 90 minutes of two teenagers dubiously hobbling around in a never-ending 69 position.
Nonetheless, parts of Yoshiura’s vision are smart, bold and visually striking; the idea of an inverted society making for a novel and effective take on the perspective of others – especially when Age himself finds his feet planted on the ceiling.
Yet, especially in an age of Studio Ghibli anime, just having a good idea for a story isn’t enough; you also need to know how to tell one. Otherwise, you will merely find yourself falling into the sky.