Review copy from Madman.
Only Yesterday is an absolutely charming movie from Studio Ghibli about a young lady named Taeko who travels to the beautiful Japanese countryside town of Yamagata to assist with the annual harvest of the safflower. The film jumps back in forth from Taeko’s upbringing in Tokyo as a ten year old living with her grandmother, parents and two older sisters to the present time as a 27 year old woman.
The film was released back in 1991 and is set in the 60’s and 80’s time era with a fairly heavy hand on realism for that period. It was aimed at adults when it received its theatrical release and surprisingly went on to become the highest grossing movie of the year in Japan.
Yamagata is where the family of her brother in law lives who she assists in the harvest as well as drawing the attention of her in law’s second cousin, Toshio. As the film jumps back and forth in time, you can sense the nostalgia within Taeko and the memories which she can’t let go of. From her earliest interest in a boy at her school going awry to what could have possibly been a promising career in acting going off the rails thanks to her very stern father. Her father is the very strong head of the family while her mother tries to help Taeko navigate her way through childhood even if it comes across heavy handed as well. Her sister, Yaeko, in particular seems to spend a lot of her time ridiculing and putting young Taeko down.
Anyone familiar with past works from Studio Ghibli should feel right at home with this one. First off, the animation is simply exquisite. And I don’t mean that in a fancy way however the very reduced colour palette and basic drawing style only helps to push the story along and really immerses you in the character development as there isn’t anything distracting in the way. In an age where anime is full of 3DCG and lush colours, it’s really nice and makes for a welcome change of pace. You almost feel like you’re watching animation in its infancy, far earlier than the 1991 in which this film was released. The environments are just to die for and really draw you into the film in a way which makes you feel like you’re really there. It’s a Ghibli trademark where they can make you feel like in this way by only using basic animation and colours, they really masters of what they do.
Even the characters, while not extremely lifelike in drawing, have very human nuances. As in the way people in real life interact with each when talking by doing things that seem automatic like pulling hair from their eyes, scratching the back of your neck if unsure or put on the spot about something or even fidget about nervously, the Ghibli animators haven’t left anything out, it’s quite remarkable really.
The music is another standout, from the beautiful classical pieces to the choral voices used sparingly throughout, it’s quite stunning to the ears. And it’s yet another stroke of genius to Ghibli.
I really really loved this movie from the start to the end and when the credits start rolling, don’t turn it off as you’ll miss literally the best part of the movie! Ghibli films can be quite evocative and really pull at your heartstrings and this is no different. From her difficult and testing childhood to her time as a young woman, you’ll find yourself really drawn to Taeko, she’s such a multifaceted character.
Final score: 10/10