By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s “Patema Inverted,” an anime feature originally formatted as an original net animation in four sections, gives us a plaintive young heroine. It also includes a steadfast young hero, a charismatic villain to boo and hiss, and a lot of head-spinning visuals. Beneath all that pizazz, sterner stuff lurks. It may be entertainment, but it’s an invitation to get out of our own headspace, even if we have to head-spin to those new conclusions.
Patema herself (voiced by Fujii Yukiyo in Japanese, Cassandra Lee Morris in English) lives in a subterranean civilization defined by huge, complex, and seemingly-endless corridors. Her people live and die here, with all the resources they need. But they never see sunlight or feel fresh air. Such things are foreign to them even as concepts—except for a few folks who whisper with another world, to the displeasure of the elders.
Patema eventually takes her pursuit of the forbidden knowledge too far, and she falls down a deep, dark shaft, freaking out all the way down. At the other end of the tunnel, shock awaits her — another world, one that opens to the sky and the elements, but upside-down relative to her own. Only the quick actions of a young boy, Age (pronounced “ah-gay”), prevents her from shooting up into the sky, where, they both presume, certain doom would await her.
Age (voiced by Nobuhiko Okamoto and Michael Sinterniklass) is a schoolboy in the open-sky, upside-down world called Aiga. Like Patema’s subterranean civilization, Aiga tells its people that the world they know is the only world that exists. Unlike Patema’s world, Aiga is a rigid, dystopian society, which programs its young people, through schooling and socializing, to march in step, to avoid questioning anything, and to receive harsh punishments when one disobeys or ventures an original thought.
Aiga is ruled by Izamura (voiced by Takaya Hashi and Richard Epcar), a snide, superior dictator surrounded by armored soldiers with blazing red lights for eyes. He’s aware of Patema’s people, but dismisses them as “Inverts” when he’s not denying their existence entirely. He blames them for conducting a radical experiment which rendered them upside-down to Aiga. The incident killed many people and upset what he sees as the proper balance of life. He wants the Inverts exterminated.
Patema and Age spend a fair amount of time trying to keep each other from flying off into the sky, or deep underground, depending on whose point of view we’re considering. And the point of view frequently flips around, between the two characters’ vantage points, so that if one of them seems right-side up, we know that we’ll reconsider that in a few minutes. This helps us to keep both of their points of view in mind, and we get a swirling eyeful of a lot of beautiful, impeccably-illustrated scenery.
In the end, the struggle of the two young friends (who eventually consider becoming more than friends) proves more important than the social commentary, but not by much. The story and the visuals may be fantastic, but they invite us to consider our own positions. Is our own society a little too much like Aiga? Are we suppressing other points of view, other visions, for the sake of convenience and smooth sailing in society? I urge you to watch and answer for yourself. (end)
“Patema Inverted” opens Friday, Sept. 26th, at SIFF Cinema Uptown, 511 Queen Anne Avenue North in Seattle’s lower Queen Anne neighborhood, near Seattle Center. For prices, showtimes, call 206-324-9996 or visit www.siffcinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.