“Only Yesterday” (1991)
In 1991, Studio Ghibli was only six years old but already had a major hit in the animated film “Kik’s Delivery Service” (1989). In 1991, director/writer Isao Takahata brought us the animated film “Only Yesterday” which went on to become the biggest grossing film in Japan for 1991. For some reason, the film was never released in North America. For the 25th anniversary of the movie Studio Ghibli has recorded an English-language version of the film starring the voices of Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”) and Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”). The original Japanese language version with English subtitles will also be released. When the film was made director Takahata decided to keep the animation of the movie as realistic as possible, so the dialogue was recorded before the film was made and then the animators matched the animation to the voices. They also stayed away from the typical Japanese animation and gave the film a more realistic look, with lush animated backgrounds and characters that had much more human-like characteristics.
“Only Yesterday” is about Taeko (voiced by Daisy Ridley), a 27-year old office worker living in Tokyo. We follow her as she cleans off her desk, says her goodbyes and heads for the train station to start her 10-day vacation. She is off to visit her relatives, farmers in the countryside. It’s something she did last year and is looking forward to it again this year. As she rides on the train, she thinks about when she was a young teen, living with her sisters and parents. She thinks about what was important to a young girl, things that today seem unimportant but to a young child, it’s their whole world. It’s a world which could seemingly crumble if a classmate shuns you or if you aren’t picked for a team sport.
When Taeko arrives at her destination, she is clumsily met by Toshio (voiced by Dev Patel), a young farmer whose passion for the land is almost overwhelming to Taeko. Toshio is very outgoing, easy to talk to too and seems interested in Taeko’s opinions on just about every subject. He is a little jealous that Taeko gets to live in the big city, being one of the few young men in the countryside that hasn’t left to make it big in Tokyo, having decided to go into his families’ business of raising crops. They arrive at her relatives’ farm where they grow flowers that are used for rouge and for dying clothes. As soon as she gets out of Toshio’s car, she dons on her work clothes and instantly starts working in the field. The work is satisfying, and it seems that Taeko may be suited better for this world than the “rat race” back in Tokyo.
“Only Yesterday” is a warm, lovely film that treats it’s main character, whether it’s the adult version or the younger one, with a loving touch. This is a movie about a woman discovering that what molded her in youth, now has implications in the adult world. Taeko seems to be happy with her job in Tokyo but the longer she spends getting back in rhythm with a simpler life, the more content she seems. The film explores the conflict that women in Japan felt at that time, their desire to be independent working women in conflict with the Japanese ideal that women should be “stay at home” mothers. Taeko will have to decide by the end of the film on what life she wants to live in the future, the big-city life or the simpler country way of living.
The film also explores Taeko’s childhood in flashbacks, often brought on by what Taeko is experiencing in the present time. Taeko’s childhood is not all smiles and playdates with friends. Taeko, as a child, like the adult, is extremely headstrong, wanting big things to happen and when they don’t, she gets very disappointed or rebellious. This causes her parents to react strongly back, whether it’s a slap from her father or her parents forbidding her from taking her interest in acting further. These incidents have far-reaching results that Taeko is still dealing with as an adult.
This is animated film aimed at adults. It’s a romantic film about a young woman struggling to find her place in the world. It’s also a film that explores the importance of respecting nature and how you must give to the land as much as you take. The film combines the romantic elements with the message of celebrating nature to a satisfying conclusion where we know Taeko will finally be happy with who she is. This is an animated film that is far better than most romantic live action films. is exquisitely animated; a film to savor for its beauty and its story of finding our way in the world, that we can find peace with our choices and with nature. My Rating: I Would Pay to See it Again
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
“Only Yesterday” is now playing exclusively in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
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