Where does the magic begin with such a studio as Ghibli? Is it the wonderfully heartwarming fuzzy thing that is Totoro, the incredibly emotional Grave of the Fireflies, or the charming Baron in The Cat Returns? Could it simply be that this Studio is so unique, that whatever they touch instantly turns into a masterpiece of a journey? A piece of artistry that restores all faith into this universe of chaos we are currently residing in – and Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday does exactly just that.
Arguably, this is set aside in the pile of unfairly unnoticed Ghibli’s; such as Pom Poko (1994) or Whispers of the Heart (1995); yet the miniscule details in the animation here make it a very humanely touching picture. Who better to tackle than the man who has already given us some of the most expressively moving stories in cinematic (or animation) cinema than Takahata himself? Making the enormous effort to bring these characters to life even more so, the team certainly succeeded in making our main protagonist Taeko to appear as real as anyone around you, even if she is hand drawn.
The story isn’t demanding here, nor is it terribly exciting. Yet everyone can relate to this plotline on some level, making it virtually impossible not to get caught up in average, daily occurances that are far from enchanting but carry immense purpose. Thus, turning the tiniest thing into something extraordinary. Taeko, a 27 year old woman is taking a well-earned trip to the countryside, where she has the chance to think about what she wants out of life as a woman in Japan. In the form of cleverly placed flashbacks of childhood memories, we are lead through her years of growing up in busy Tokyo. Contemplating and reliving aspects of her much younger self, brings her joy but at the same time some of what she sees is terribly hard to watch. The cruelty of classmates in the playground, waiting for her period to start and of course, discovering the opposite sex all emerge from her insightful thoughts. Sweet childish memories consume her for a moment only to be pushed out of the way making way for the much sadder, unnerving experiences any child can have, not just a girl.
Of course, such happenings aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, and could have easily been done as a life action play. Although, the fact that this is animated doesn’t even come into it. The illustrations, the colour, the detail utilized to create this world make it so much more tangible as an animation. The narrative captures you, holding your hand every step of the way through this ‘discovering one’s self’ tale in such a way that the oh so familiar real world we all know simply wouldn’t have had the same affect.
Interestingly, Only Yesterday was first released back in 91’, and has never had an official cinema release here in the UK. In association for Studiocanal’s Ghibli season, they have decided to give this gem of a film time on the big screen and have made it even more accessible for western audiences by placing an English dub over the top. Managing to score Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ star Daisy Ripley as leading lady and Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel, such talents should ensure the original remains as moving as ever.
Despite its downbeat moments, Only Yesterday is an incredibly uplifting experience. Just another pawn on the vast chessboard of Ghibli’s masterpieces, supernatural beasts or not.
ONLY YESTERDAY IS OUT ON DVD & BLU-RAY NOW!