The Weekender talks with a rising star in the anime world ahead of the release of his feature debut.

By Christopher O’Keeffe

With the recent news that Hayao Miyazaki is stepping down from his Ghibli throne, it might be time for a new animator to pick up some pencils and take his place. Of course there are hundreds of talented animators in Japan but few produce the kind of work that can cross borders and appeal to more than just a dedicated core of anime fans. Recently directors such as Hosoda Mamoru (Summer Wars, Wolf Children) and Okiura Hiroyuki (A Letter to Momo) have been creating works with a broader style leading to successful festival runs and DVD sales. Yoshiura Yasuhiro will be hoping for similar success with his feature debut, Patema Inverted.

It is the story of a girl named Patema, the daughter of the leader of a community of people living in an underground kingdom. One day when the inquisitive Patema is exploring a forbidden area she falls down a hole into a new world where she is rescued by Age, a young boy who feels oppressed by the rigid dictatorship of the land where he lives. In this new land Patema is stuck upside down, constantly being pulled back into her own world somewhere above. Age must find a way for Patema to return home while staying one step ahead of the authorities who hate and fear those who fall from above.

During Tokyo International Film Festival the Weekender had the chance to sit down with the director and discuss his latest work and his future in animation.

The central idea for this film seems to be that these two young people are constantly being pulled apart, where did you get this idea?

It was something I used to dream about when I was young. I used to look up at the sky and imagine looking down at a sea of clouds. We have an expression in Japan about falling into the sky and this is exactly what I used to imagine: the feeling of floating down into the sky.

Recently there has been a couple of other films with a similar concept of two worlds connected but apart—Elysium and Upside Down. Why do think this idea of separated, inaccessible worlds is appealing to filmmakers at the moment?

Actually when I first heard about them I was shocked! I knew about them when I was making this film but I haven’t seen them yet. When I first had the idea to make this movie I thought there was nothing like it but I did think someone might come up with an idea like it soon. I felt a bit of a rush to get it made!

My first idea for the film was that one day the world is turned upside down and the only survivors are the people in the buildings who then have to try and live in the new world. The theme, however, is not just the upside-down world, what’s interesting is the story of the girl, the heroine from the world above.

The main image of the two children clutching each other as they are suspended in the sky is very striking and it looks even better in the film. Did you start with that image and then build the story around it?

My original idea was more of a disaster movie, the world being turned upside down and only the people in the buildings surviving. To do this, I thought it would take a major budget, like that of a Hollywood movie so I decided to concentrate on one central character, the heroine. I then quickly knocked up a rough sketch which ultimately became the image used on the poster. It’s the image of a love story, that they must hold on to each other to survive.

I think this film has a broader appeal than many anime works: was this something you thought about?

Of course, I want it to appeal to families and couples, not just anime fans. I focused on the character designs and colors so they would appeal to everyone. If people go to the cinema and the film they wanted to see was full I want people to perhaps see the flyer for my film and be interested in it and go to see it. I want people to be interested in that way.

It was something I used to dream about when I was young. I used to look up at the sky and imagine looking down at a sea of clouds. We have an expression in Japan about falling into the sky and this is exactly what I used to imagine: the feeling of floating down into the sky.

This is your first feature length film (Yoshiura made a successful six-part series, Time of Eve, in 2009). Was it difficult making the transition?

It wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve made a lot of short films and making the transition from short to long wasn’t difficult at all.

It was recently announced that Hayao Miyazaki is retiring from feature film making. How do you feel about this? Do you think there could perhaps now be a gap in the market that was previously dominated by Ghibli?

He’s not quitting, just stepping down. I’m sure he’ll continue to make something and I’m excited to see what he does do. As an anime maker that’s not something I think about. I just want to make my work and have people watch it. Maybe producers feel that way but not anime makers.

In the past you’ve done much of the work on your films yourself, directing, writing, producing, voice-acting and editing, working on a bigger scale did you have to give up some control?

Yeah, in the past I did a lot myself but this time I had a few more people in to help me, it was no problem as the staff were really great. We were working side by side so it was easy to look over my shoulder and see what the people around me were doing.

Have you any plans to make another film set in the universe you’ve created in Patema Inverted?

It’s possible I’ll return but not right now. I’ve worked on this idea and it’s difficult to make something interesting again right now. I’m already working on my next project which will be something completely different. I have around 10 ideas in my head right now!

Patema Inverted (Sakasamu no Patema) will be released in theaters on November 9th.