Sunday, March 09, 2014

NYICFF ’14: Patema Inverted

Above ground, it is like George Orwell’s Oceania. Below ground, it is like Zion in Matrix: Revolutions, except this is a better film. It is easy to tell them apart, because the polarity of gravity is different for each. Yet, two young people will try to bridge the gap in Yasuhiro Yoshiura’s Patema Inverted (trailer here), which screens during the 2014 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Those who live above are pulled down, whereas those who live below are pushed up. Obviously, whenever the latter leave their underground warrens, they run the risk of floating out of the atmosphere. Nevertheless, their princess, Patema, has the compulsion to explore, much like her missing and presumed dead father figure, Lagos. Oddly enough, something similar happened to surface-dweller Age’s father.  He invented a flying machine that went up, but never came down.

Being his father’s son, Age is out of step with the Aiga police state, so he instinctively protects Patema when she strays too far into his world. However, he is no match for the evil overlord Izamura’s secret police. With Patema captured, Age seeks refuge below ground, learning first-hand what is like to live an upside-down existence.

While Inverted has the trappings of dystopian science fiction, it is really more of fantasy at heart. Much of what transpires would be difficult to explain scientifically, so Yoshiura hardly bothers. Sure, some scientific experiment tampered with gravity way back when, but that is just the opening premise. Inverted opens up into a big, cosmic canvas, where up and down are never constant. Frankly, it might be one of the most dizzying films ever made—and it is in good old fashioned 2D.

Like Yoshiura’s excellent Time of Eve, Inverted is built around a high concept, but it does not have the same human touch as his prior NYICFF selection (which is an ironic thing to write, considering Eve is all about human-android interaction). Patema and Age are plucky and likable, with psychologically complex backstories, but they still are not as fully realized characters as those in Eve. Of course, Yoshiura set the bar really high in that film.

Still, by big budget animation standards, Inverted is quite thoughtful and engaging. It would make an interesting double feature with Cuarón’s Gravity, while Eve could be nicely paired up with Jonze’s Her. Easily recommended for its rich visuals and idealistic sensibilities, Patema Inverted screens again Saturday March 22nd at the SVA Theater, as the 2014 NYICFF continues over the next three weekends at venues throughout Manhattan. Future screenings will include the absolutely charming AninA and the appealing Annie: It’s a Hard Knock Life.