1991, NR, 118 min. Directed by Isao Takahata. Voices by Miki Imai, Daisy Ridley, Toshirô Yanagiba, Dev Patel, Youko Honna, Alison Fernandez.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 26, 2016
Originally released in Japan in 1991 only to end up on our shores during its 25th anniversary, Only Yesterday is a little-seen gem in the crown of Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli. Directly preceded by two of the studio’s most memorable animated films – My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service – Only Yesterday was helmed by The Tale of the Princess Kaguya’s Isao Takahata, who co-founded Studio Ghibli with partner Hayao Miyazaki. While the latter’s films tend to involve forest spirits, airborne adolescent witches, and Asian mythology, Takahata tends toward a more reality-based tone and story (although the folktale dreamscape of Princess Kaguya departs from that style).
The protagonist of Only Yesterday is Taeko, a twentysomething career office-worker in modern (well, 1991) Tokyo, who takes a holiday to visit the countryside of her youth, which in turn triggers long-buried memories of Taeko’s turbulent teenage years. These and other family and schoolyard melodramas are seamlessly interwoven into the story via flashbacks and narration. While reminiscing, she meets cute with Toshio (Yanagiba), whose family grows bright crimson flowers for use in fabric dyes. As in most other films from Studio Ghibli, there’s a none-too-subtle relationship between the human characters and the natural world outside of the towering Tokyo cityscape. And, of course, there’s also Studio Ghibli’s other recurring theme: that of a strong female character confronting (and usually overcoming) societal obstacles – in this case, the dull toil of the big-city office slog versus all that should have been and may yet well be. Or not, really; longtime fans of Ghibli will recall that not everything works out well for everyone in the studio’s oeuvre. Handkerchiefs should be considered essential for viewing this lovely, overlooked-in-the-U.S. addition to Takahata and Ghibli’s already perfect CV.
Only Yesterday is presented in both subtitled and English-language versions.