Here’s a film that Hollywood should be planning to remake; essentially a feature-length version of the zero gravity scenes from Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010), which shares even closer DNA with the Kirsten Dunst US box office bomb Upside Down (2012). Bold and beautiful, this is a wonderful example of the anime aesthetic, but not its storytelling prowess. Patema Inverted (2013) takes place in a world divided by gravitational fields. Our heroine is the eponymous Patema (Fujii Yukiyo), a princess from the underground world built by the sufferers of reverse gravity. Whilst exploring, she falls through a vent and finds herself in the real world, where she’s in constant danger of falling into the wide open sky below.
It’s an arresting concept, and the visuals of the world are executed beautifully – the animation paints the totalitarian surface state in shades of muted grey, whilst golden light streams from the sky and the stars. Likewise, Patema’s friendship with Age (Nobuhiko Okamoto), a surly surface boy whose father mysteriously disappeared in a ballooning accident, leads to a great set-up, where their opposing gravitational pulls allow them to exercise a form of half-flying, half-jumping (like a decent John Carter of Mars). It’s used throughout the film and is one of the most interesting ways imaginable of creating a conjoined superhero. Unfortunately, Patema Inverted has more in common with video games – particularly the post-apocalyptic Fallout series – than with any great sci-fi classics of the past.
Yasuhiro Yoshiura film’s sadly devolves into a faintly silly heist movie, moving along like a vaguely interesting third-person platform game. Then, all of a sudden, there’ll be a moment of intense visual creativity – such as the sort of roving, gravity-free camerawork that Alfonso Cuarón perfected last year – that sits at odds with its childish, and faintly ridiculous, setting. Patema Inverted has children in its lead roles but, putting that aside, it’s a relatively standard science fiction movie. Blushing about first love and being a sandwich-demanding brat just don’t seem a good fit for a high concept movie like this. There’s a great idea at its heart and the plot is, on the whole, a sensible execution of this premise, but Yoshiura’s effort is let down by a narrative disposition that doesn’t sit well with a sophisticated audience.