Review for Patema Inverted
The whole Kickstarter movement has blown my mind. After close to two decades of experience with the Internet, most of that spent avoiding the predations of surprise Nigerian uncles offering inheritances and Eastern Europeans pretending to be my bank, and having had my credit card scammed once or twice on a legitimate shop’s hacked website, I had come to approach any online business venture with a great deal of caution and cynicism, a cynicism which I nurture to this day. As I wasn’t alone in these experiences, I came to expect that most other Internet users would be just as jaded as I. And then comes Kickstarter, which is basically a system where if someone has an idea, they share that cool idea online, and ask for money from anyone interested, in the hope that the idea will be funded to the point where the investors can be rewarded with the cool idea they invested in.
That’s an idealistic way of funding things that I couldn’t wrap my cynical mind around. If everyone on the Internet was as untrusting as I, Kickstarter would never work, or so I thought. Instead, it’s become a new paradigm of investing, where the customer can directly influence that which they wish to purchase. It’s the Internet success story of the 2010s, and it’s reshaping the retail and the creative world. It’s such a useful tool for inventors and creators, who get to gauge interest in their ideas before they start the process of creation, and they get the funding without any of that painful Dragon’s Den nonsense. But the aspect of Kickstarters that’s most appropriate for discussion here is the way retailers and entertainment distributors can measure the interest in a niche product before they sell it. Who needs market research when you can ask your customer’s directly?
Anime is as niche a product as you can imagine, with distributors constantly walking the tightrope of breakeven between profit and loss on each successive release. The more niche a title is, the greater the chance of a loss, so it makes sense to first ask your customer base just how much they want a title. Anime was one of the earliest entertainment products to try the Kickstarter process to varying degrees of success in the US. When All the Anime started up in the UK, with their laudable goal to be the Criterion of anime, giving the kind of treatment to their licenses that the UK fan base has rarely seen, that kind of expensive goal needed a guaranteed customer base, and Kickstarter was the logical way to find those customers. Their second experiment after funding a global release of Mai Mai Miracle was this, Patema Inverted, from director Yasushiro Yoshiura, the director of Time of Eve.
They did the hard work first, securing the rights for the film and the extras; the Kickstarter was to see just how the fans wanted it, a basic release, or a fancy release with all the trimmings, or something in between. In the end, it took just 5 hours to fund the basic release, and in the end it hit all the stretch goals too. Fans now have the choice of Standard Edition with just the Blu-ray and DVD discs, the Collector’s Edition which gets artbox packaging and a 48 page short story booklet, and the Ultimate Edition which gets that, exclusive bespoke packaging, the movie soundtrack on CD, and a 136-page Design Works book, translated into English. Of course those who backed the Kickstarter get extra goodies on top, but those three versions are available for general retail. I can’t tell you about the packaging, or the booklets, as all I received for review was the Blu-ray movie disc. I can tell you about the on-disc extra features though, of which there are many.
Patema is a bright young girl who lives in a vibrant community, albeit underground. The one problem is the lack of room, and Patema loves to explore, especially given the stories of other worlds told to her by her departed mentor Lagos. She also has a habit of exploring the Forbidden Zone. It’s forbidden for a reason, as she finds out when she’s attacked by a mythical Bat Person, a cloaked figure hanging from the ceiling. She falls down a deep pit... and out of the bottom, continuing on down into the sky. She manages to halt her fall by grabbing onto a chain link fence, and a boy named Age comes to her rescue, hanging from the grassy roof!
Her world has been literally turned upside down. The only thing stopping her from falling into the sky is Age, and he manages to pull her to a building where she can take refuge on its ceiling, and she learns about Age’s world. Age’s world is wide open, bounded by a sky stretching to the horizons, and rich with life. It’s also a despotic dystopia where its citizens are forbidden from looking to the heavens. The legend is that years previously, the world faced a great upheaval, and the sinners fell up to the sky. The pure inherited the Earth, and since then the leader has reinforced that message with a tyrannical control. But Age’s father dreamed of flying in the sky, and although he died in the attempt, Age’s inherited that seditious dream. For the world’s current leader, Izamura, dogma must be enforced with an iron fist. Patema’s arrival into this world hasn’t gone unnoticed, and no Invert, no sinner shall be countenanced in Izamura’s pure domain.
Patema Inverted gets a 1.78:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p. If you’ve seen the web series Time of Eve from Yasushiro Yoshiura, you’ll know just what an artist he is. He delivers clear, consistent and likeable character designs, but places them in rich, detailed world designs, with dynamic and atmospheric lighting. That’s most apparent in Patema Inverted, which gets a feature film budget and appropriate attention, where motes of dust can serve as a plot point. What makes Patema Inverted all the more fascinating to watch is that the world has to work from two perspectives, given that Age and Patema live in literal diametric opposition to each other. Patema Inverted is a warm, rich and inviting viewing experience, if a little dizzying at times. The Blu-ray presentation does this film full justice. There was one instance of digital banding, but given that it was when Izamura’s image appeared on a classroom screen, that might have been intentional. Also, in the film there is a painting depicting the fall of the sinners to the sky. The central figure in this image exhibits a slight shimmer on its outlines. That’s about the only flaw I could find.
The images in this review are supplied by the PR, and aren’t necessarily representative of the final retail release.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, French and Japanese, with English and French subtitles and signs only tracks. Note that the audio and subtitle options are locked during playback. Also note that you only get English audio with signs (only for translating some of the credits) if you insert the disc and select play. If you choose English from the language select menu, the signs track never comes on. French audio has the French signs by default, and you can choose from Japanese with English subtitles, and Japanese with French subtitles, but other than that, you can’t mix and match.
I went with the original language and was very happy with the experience. The actors are well suited to their characters; the action sequences make effective use of the surround soundstage, while the music drives the film’s emotional arc without overpowering it. If there is an issue, it’s during the end credits, where the subtitles begin translating the end song lyrics, but also translate the Japanese credits as well, and that causes an excessive amount of flickering in the subtitles, and they just give up with both halfway through the credit reel. I gave the English dub a brief try, and it seemed a solid effort.
Upon inserting the disc, you have the option of English or French animated menus. It’s a little odd to see Play All as a way of starting a single feature film, but press play and you get a couple of pages of text listing the contributors to the Kickstarter, before the film starts playing. Scene select will skip that though (sorry Kickstarter backers).
The prominent extra feature with this release is the audio commentary. It’s rare for Western anime releases to get commentaries from the Japanese staff, and it makes a nice change to get the original creator’s point of view, as they usually have a lot more invested in their creation. In this one we get the voices of Patema (Yukiyo Fuji), Age (Nobuhiko Okamoto), and Porta, (Shintaro Oohata), along with the producer, Mikio Ono. It’s well worth making the time to listen (read?) this commentary.
The World Through Patema’s Eyes (Alternative Scenes) lasts 26:39. Remember that Easter Egg on the Memento DVD, that let you watch the film in chronological order? This lets you see some key moments in the film from Patema’s perspective by the expedient of inverting the image.
You get an Interview with Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Director) which lasts 5:13, and you get the Interview with voices of Patema and Age which lasts 6:00, and they offer a little insight into their respective work on the film.
You get the UK and Japanese trailers in a reel lasting 8:23. The All the Anime logo gets a neat twist here, but the Japanese trailers lack subtitles.
The UK Exclusive Interview with Yasuhiro Yoshiura lasts 5:22.
TIFFCOM Premiere Footage lasts 13:19, and has the cast and crew on stage offering an introduction to the film at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and brief interviews.
Finally the Message From Yoshiura-san to UK Fans After Watching Film isn’t on this disc. Or at least I very much doubt it. Instead we have a 1:47 brief soundbite interview with the director and the voice cast, and judging from their apparel, it’s caught backstage at TIFFCOM. There’s no mention of UK fans, and no special message for us. I think they put the wrong video clip on. Hopefully Anime Limited can find the correct clip and get it online so that fans can see it that way.
There’s a part of me that will always wish that Lionel Richie’s Dancing on the Ceiling was this film’s theme song. That’s the only, rather pathetic criticism I can come up with for this charming film. Patema Inverted is one of the most inventive, smart, and entertaining anime features I have seen in a long time, and if you’re looking for an animated feature film this Christmas, this should be at the top of your list. It certainly made me wonder why it wasn’t on the Oscar shortlist (the answer being Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises of course). After having seen Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Time of Eve when it was first streamed, I was expecting something intelligent, thought-provoking, and visually inventive, and of exceptional quality. I certainly got that, but what I wasn’t expecting was something so downright entertaining, thrilling, and emotionally effective.
After all, Time of Eve is very much an intellectual examination of a future world where robots are ubiquitous, and the consequences of human interactions with robots. In that respect it’s very much in the Asimov vein, himself a very conceptual author. The concept in Patema Inverted can also be considered an intellectual one, the kind of twist in worldview that informs the best kind of science fiction. Here the question is, what would happen if gravity were reversed, and to make it more challenging, only for a certain proportion of the population (and everything else around them)? So while you may have your feet on the ground, looking up at the sky, down below you in a cave are a bunch of people who in your perspective live on the ceiling, and if they were ever to venture above ground, they would fall towards the sky. The meeting between these two contiguous, but mutually alien worlds is fascinating in itself to contemplate.
Yoshiura does more than this, he asks just how such a state of affairs could have come about, and more importantly what effect it would have on the people who survived such an upheaval, and on their descendants. The natural extrapolation is that it all becomes history, then legend, then eventually religious dogma, and so it is that the Inverted People, those who survived the upheaval and escaped falling into the sky, are now considered sinners. After all, seeing a massive part of the population suddenly pulled skywards would have you consider what they had done to deserve such a fate, and why you had escaped it. That situation drives the drama in the film, as when Patema arrives in the upper world, escaping that tragic fate, she’s recognised as a sinner. In a world built on and driven by that dogma, the legend used as a dominating force by a despotic leader, she as a sinner is a potential destabilising force, and she and her kind mustn’t be allowed to interact with and alter the thinking of ‘normal’ people.
But driving the heart of the film is the simple relationship and friendship that forms between Patema and Age, a girl and a boy, literally from two different worlds, who meet and are drawn to each other, even more than they are drawn away from each other by their respective gravitational pulls. Both have tragic pasts, and both dream of worlds outside of their everyday perception, and the dogma instilled in them by their elders. Quite naturally they are a perfect match. The movie also sidesteps the usual hesitancy in teenage anime relationships, since for Patema to survive above, and Age to survive below, requires a whole lot of intimacy, literally holding on to each other for dear life. It’s also a great allegory for the necessity of co-operation, as together Age and Patema can accomplish the kind of spectacular feats that neither could alone.
Patema Inverted is a great adventure film. I got the same feeling watching this that I did when I first saw Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky. The film has a brilliant concept, executed with confidence and aplomb, it has a very intelligent story, it’s got a deliciously evil villain, and it’s got two very likeable and engaging lead characters. It’s got stunning animation, some astounding action sequences, and the story has some genuine twists and surprises. This sort of film comes along so very rarely, that you shouldn’t let it pass you by. Thanks to All the Anime, you can get it in this very handy and affordable Standard Edition, but there is a very lush and affordable Collector’s Edition too, while for genuine fans there is the Ultimate (and no doubt very limited) Edition, which is packed with Patema goodness.