Even though we’ve collectively logged over 1,900 hours of anime, we still consider ourselves humble tourists in the field. As such, we’ve developed and clung to assumptions more experienced and/or knowledgeable parties might find quaint. One of those is that the Miyazaki/Ghibli juggernaut has classically had the “wondrous fantasy with wide appeal” market cornered.
After this film (originally released in November), the first work we’ve seen from 34-year-old Yoshiura Yasuhiro (Eve no Jikan) which is ostensibly his magnum opus (so far), that assumption has been…inverted. SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.
Hannah Brave (Braverade): I’m still reveling in the afterglow of this phenomenally gorgeous film. There honestly wasn’t a bad shot in the whole running time. From the opening moments depicting a wide-scale calamity to the transition to an underground world, it just kept dishing out awesome, exquisitely-detailed environments, determined to out-do Ghibli in sheer density of memorable imagery.
Preston Yamazuka (MagicalChurlSukui): I too found myself spellbound by the sights, but even the best-looking film can be undone by subpar music or voice-acting. This had neither of those problems: the stirring orchestral score, the hauntingly beautiful theme song; the voice-acting and ambient sounds—all conspired to complete our transportation to this new world.
Zane Kalish (sesameacrylic): The sights and sounds were spot-on (and very Ghibliesque at times, I might add), but where this film really shone was in its premise, brilliant in its elegance and almost universally approachable: what starts as a humble fish-out-of-water tale balloons into an epic tale of two worlds with opposite gravity connected by two young, open-minded representatives of said worlds, who share a passion for exploration and a yearning for the new.
Hannah: Yeah, I sure did think this was just going to be about the Adventures of Upside Down Girl, but the film became so much more than that as it progressed. The science of what exactly happened to cause this phenomenon is wisely kept vague; it’s the impact of the phenomenon on society that really impressed.
Preston: To returning to the genesis of the Ghibliverse, Patema sure did resemble Princess Nausicaä, and her village was the kind of individualistic egalitarian utopia ruled by a kindly king the Valley of the Wind was. Meanwhile, gravity may be “correct” in Age’s world (in that the sky is up, but more on that later), but feels like Nausicaä’s unseen Tolmekian Empire; run by a man not afraid to spill blood to validate his ideals.
Zane: Forget just Ghibli: Aiga, a stark, authoritarian nightmareland where it’s taboo to look up, called to mind Nineteen Eighty-Four, Blade Runner, Brazil, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. In any case, no where you particularly want to be. Once Patema arrives in Age’s world, the cameras favor Age’s perspective, making her inverted, but it’s Aiga world that’s “upside down” in terms of philosophy.
Hannah: When Age (pronounced “Eiji”) hides Patema in that little shed, we knew it was only a matter of time before the “anti-invert” state got wind of her and brought the hammer down. If we had to give this film a demerit, it would be for having such a Laughably EEEEVIL Antagonist in Governor
Odious Izamura, who spouts dogmatic bullshit but at the end of the day only worships the god Izamura, believing the vast power he has entitles him to keep Patema as a pet…or worse.
Preston: I can kinda forgive the scenery-chewing arch-villain, because while this film is often broken up into extremes of good and evil or up and down, it’s just as concerned with the “in-between”, the “third way”, and in finding a way to connect the two worlds, which starts with the two kids Patema and Age. And even Izamura’s evil is diluted by his right-hand man, who operates in more of a moral gray area for most of the film.
Zane: Izamura’s character was definitely informed by the old-school bad guy immortalized by Muska, whom even Miyazaki said he was a bit disappointed in, but when two crazy kids start makin’ eyes at each other, you need a strong, unrelenting force to break them apart in order to make their reunion that much more of an accomplishment. And I loved everything about the friendly love triangle of Patema, Age, and Porta, including how the two guys put their rivalry aside to save the girl.
Hannah: That was one hell of a rescue…even though it technically failed! But while Patema and Age’s escape back down (or up? Oh dear…) to her world was delayed, the standoff on the roof of the skyscraper left us breathless, and led to one spectacular aerial vista after another, until they grow so close to the stars in the sky, they learn they’re actually lights from a huge network of structures. I have to say, I wasn’t expecting that.
Preston: Actually, when Age and Patema watched the stars together for the first time, I was truly hoping against hope they were actually the lights of another city. That the film actually went there really made my evening. And in a glorious moment of continuity and coincidence edging on kismet, Patema finds her backpack, which just happened to land right beside the Age’s dad’s wrecked flying machine.
Zane: Kismet or not, I really liked the way one life-threatening situation after another led to the Patema and Age growing to trust each other implicitly with their lives, and even becoming comfortable in their inverted hugging. The tender romance takes an important step forward up there in the “stars” where Age is the Inverted, and thus truly understands what Patema went through. As a recovering acrophobe, every instance of someone looking at their version of “down” generated a visceral response, a combination of primal fear and excitement. Unfortunately, there was no Spider-Man (or girl, in this case) kiss.
Hannah: Part of me hoped the lovebirds could just stay up there, but not only did practical issues preclude that (it gets really hot up there during the day, plus there’s no food), they’re the hero and heroine of the story; they can’t just run away from their responsibility—and their desire—to serve as the bridge between their worlds. When they arrive at Patema’s village, it’s in the middle of her memorial service—now that right there is some Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer stuff!
Zane: Yes, Duty Before Booty.
Preston: Please don’t type that. Also, you cut in line, it’s my turn to write something.
Zane: You going to subtract points and revoke my citizenship?
Preston: No, there’s no need to go Aiga on you. Ahem…anyway, yeah, Izamura’s plan to invade Patema’s realm with a handful of men using a flying device he has no idea how to operate seemed a bit short-sighted. You’d think someone who has that many weapons on his person would more carefully prepare for such an operation. It was akin to Dennis Hopper’s President Koopa travelling to Manhattan armed with Super Scopes in the live-action Super Mario film.
Zane: Damn, nice reference. That was a properly nutty movie. But regarding Izamura, he was so obsessed with crushing the Inverted and taking personal possession of Patema (best illustrated by his tirade about why she chose Age – because he’s the same age and not a dick, duh!) it dulled the survival instincts he’d ostensibly cultivated as ruler of Aiga, resulting in his excellent death-by-falling-up into an endless sky.
Hannah: Izamura’s was a Bad Guy Death you can set your watches to, made more deliciously ironic by his long-held belief the sky swallowed up sinners. By then, his right-hand man is fed up with his evil shit and saves Patema, Age, and Porta with his trusty casting-net gun. That leads to a happy ending in which the first steps towards amity between the worlds are taken. And at that point, Patema and Age have been holding each other to prevent the other from falling to their doom for so long it becomes second nature. What do you think guys: too tidy an ending?
Preston: I don’t think so. The happy ending felt earned, after all the heavens and hells they went through together. Their success is also a handy allegory for real world conflict: Just because my up is your down and your down is my up doesn’t mean we have to be enemies. A difference of perspective, literal or not, will always lead to isolation and strife…but there will always be outliers in those groups who realize it doesn’t have to be that way, and work to unite rather than divide.
Zane: I second Preston’s opinion. By the end, Patema and Age are sweethearts, pioneers, and diplomats, but also very important symbols of the viability, and benefits, of harmony and accord. Aiga’s hardcore Orwellian society is far more brittle than it looks when exposed to the sight of a cute couple soaring through the sky like birds. I like to imagine a sequel taking place a decade or so later, when the two societies coexist amicably in a new shared infrastructure resembling Escher’s Relativity.
MAL Score: 8.31