Only Yesterday Directed by Isao Takahata
Published Feb 26, 2016In 1991, Studio Ghibli released future Academy Award nominee Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday, a wistful coming of age drama based on the manga of the same name by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone. It would take over two decades for an English-language version to reach North American shores. Now, to celebrate the film's 25th anniversary, this masterpiece of Japanese animation is being rediscovered by a whole new generation of cinemagoers.
Somehow, for a film that doesn't contain any of the fantastical creatures we've come to expect from the famed animation house, Only Yesterday is undoubtedly one of its most magical titles, primarily because of its poignant reflections on life and love. As such, it's hard not to wonder why it took so long for this film to find a distribution home outside of its native country.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Daisy Ridley provides the voice work for Taeko, an office worker in her late 20s who decides to spend her vacation time working on a farm in rural Japan, reflecting on her not-so perfect childhood in the '60s through a number of stirring scenes interspersed throughout. It's there that she reconnects with Toshio (Slumdog Millionaire and Skins' Dev Patel), an optimistic organic farmer whose head may be in the clouds at times, but whose heart is in the right place (his work ethic and morals stand in stark contrast to the kinds of office drones and conservative thinkers in the city that Taeko is trying to escape).
There's a romantic connection and tension between the two almost immediately, but it never amounts to anything. Instead, Takahata expertly crafts an emotional narrative that confronts the awkwardness of heartaches, home life and being content with oneself when society isn't as accepting, all without ever feeling heavy-handed or overwrought.
Visually, Only Yesterday keeps things simple, employing muted tones, pastel colours and limited line drawings to depict the past and acute detail when it comes to everything else, making viewers feel fully engaged whether it's long-lost memories or the pair's night-time and early morning musings flooding the screen.
Like all good Studio Ghibli productions, Only Yesterday feels timeless.