SQUEEN QUEST: PATEMA INVERTED at Japan Foundation London

Anime expert Helen McCarthy went from MIA (hiding in plain sight in the second row…) to giving awesome intro at Japan Foundation London’s screening of PATEMA INVERTED, the first film in this year’s free programme, Spring Explorers! Here’s our writeup.

Radiant Circus Screen Quest: PATEMA INVERTED anime at Japan Foundation London (20 APR).

Anime expert Helen McCarthy introduced PATEMA INVERTED with a spellbinding account of how anime has evolved and simultaneously been embraced by UK audiences, drawing compelling parallels between stories and themes across two cultures.

Starting with televised screenings of MARINE BOY in 1981, her – and our – love affair with Japanese animation grew, sidestepping some titles like THE ROSE OF VERSAILLES that still hasn’t been broadcast in the UK – “I know French people who learned more about French history from ROSE OF VERSAILLES than they did in school” – to fall deeply for groundbreaking titles that still draw great box office like AKIRA and GHOST IN THE SHELL.

Speaking of anime as art form – “wonderful, artistic, beautiful anime that also takes big, serious historical and philosophical questions and puts them straight into an entertainment” – McCarthy suggested an inversion appropriate to the evening’s film to explain its popularity in the UK. Titles like SHERLOCK HOUND – complete with furry sleuth and super stylised view of Britain – presents us with a Japanese vision of other cultures that is hard to resist: “Our coolest detective done as dogs, how can you not love that?”

Radiant Circus Screen Guide: AKIRA anime at Japan Foundation London (20 APR).

As the art form continued to mature, Katsuhiro Otomo’s “totally insane disregard” for timetables and budgets gave rise to AKIRA, complete with “97 different shades of red… including 4 that were specifically mixed for this show and known nowhere else”. This “temple of craftsmanship” was also the source of huge scandal. As anime continued to drill deeply into UK subcultures, AKIRA was debated in the House of Commons as “the forerunner of a terrifying range of oriental movies which would seduce our children into sex, drugs, rock’n roll and motorbikes”.

Of course, AKIRA changed the landscape of people’s views of animation from Japan, from the child-friendly hijinks of MARINE BOY to something deeper and (much) more sophisticated. More art was to come. The same year that gave us AKIRA also produced MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO: “my favourite film ever, in any medium, in any language, in any genre… in my opinion, a perfect film”. To anyone that disagrees? “Get someone to hold your coat. I’ll meet you outside”.

We’ve argued before that art from other cultures brings us together and anime – at least, the works that have found their way to large UK audiences – does the same by reflecting common cultural trends. For McCarthy, UK audiences find affinity with the “bucolic, rustic innocence” of TOTORO, the school girl stories of SAILOR MOON – “every girl has SAILOR MOON in their DNA”* – and the “harsh science fiction realities” of ATTACK ON TITAN, compared fascinatingly here with British works like THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT. Then there are the enduring themes of World War II as mirrored in anime titles like LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES:

“If you like seeing really big spaceships fight really big battles across huge quadrants… slowly!… this is your show.”

Radiant Circus Screen Guide: SAMURAI PIZZA CATS anime at Japan Foundation London (20 APR).

Yet, there are also profound cultural differences and this results in new solutions being found. McCarthy explains that the version of SAMURAI PIZZA CATS broadcast in the UK feels like an anime that goes back to the old days of “slapstick and irreverence”. This was because the original darker story was considered “too much for children” by the US distributors. The cast for the English language dub was therefore encouraged to adlib through the story, creating “a perfectly brilliant piece of hybrid art, mapping American sensibilities onto a Japanese original”. Not all transitions are as harmonious…

McCarthy ended her talk with a rousing call for cultural appreciation rather than appropriation: “In Britain, we’re quite happy to let anime be Japanese, in fact, it’s why we like it”. Three-quarters seriously suggesting the need for a society for the preservation of Japanese animation – “to those of you who saw the Keanu Reeves 47 RONIN, and are still sitting here having not scooped your eyeballs out with a spoon, I salute your courage” – McCarthy is keen to respect anime from Japan precisely because it “gives us a world view that is Japanese… that any culture can appreciate but that no other culture can replicate”.

Looking forward to the weekend’s programme of four Japanese films, McCarthy took one final shot across the cultural appropriation bows:

“Take out of them the things that remind you that we are all human and if we can’t respect each other’s cultural integrity and cultural difference, perhaps we’re all a bit less than human”.

And we were off…

Radiant Circus Screen Quest: PATEMA INVERTED anime at Japan Foundation London (20 APR).

As to the film? PATEMA INVERTED can feel like a co-op physics game engine in search of a coherent plot, but there’s real charm in the central topsy turvy relationship, stunning camera-spinning visuals and a strain of Puritan evil that’s reminiscent of one of Disney’s darkest – and RADIANT CIRCUS favourite – THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (“the sinners were swallowed by the sky”).

If you’ve been lucky enough to grab a ticket for the Japan Foundation London’s free programme – the other titles are MAMESHIBA (21 APR), THERMAE ROMAE (21 APR) and, TWENTY-FOUR EYES (22 APR) – let us know how you got along in the comments below.

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Featured images: PATEMA INVERTED (2013).

*Editor’s note: Some boys too 😉

PATEMA INVERTED anime at Japan Foundation London (20 APR).

Radiant Circus