Movie Review: Only Yesterday
Initial release: July 20th, 1991 by Studio Ghibli
Directed by: Isao Takahatá
© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto - Yuko Tone - GNH
It’s difficult to put into words just how much this movie, directed by the great Isao Takahata who also directed the riveting and heart-wrenching Grave of the Fireflies, resonated with me.
This is a story about 27-year old Taeko, who leaves her busy corporate life in the crowded Tokyo for the serene and honest countryside of Yamagata to work with her extended family as a safflower farmer. We follow her throughout the film as she reminisces about her childhood, and it’s in these memories where we are introduced to the second protagonist, 10-year old Taeko. The entire 2-hour runtime of this beautiful animation is so incredibly warm, simple, and thematically powerful with it’s wonderful subtleties, that it is yet another reminder of just how deep my love for Studio Ghibli and Japanese filmmaking as a whole goes.
There’s an honesty in the way Takahata portrays children. An honesty we don’t get in western media. An honesty in the conversations that children have. An honesty in their little mannerisms, cadence, and silly reactions, which are all shown beautifully through the direction, storyboarding, precise animation work - which utilizes every frame to further an emotion, especially in moments of silence, of which there are appropriately many - and nuanced voice acting. I found myself moved by Taeko as a character. Seeing the little girl through the lens of the 27-year old, who’s trying to find explanations for her life from blurred memories, while at the same time unsure of where she calls “home,” are all sentiments that I, writing this now as a 27-year old myself, connected deeply with. Though my gender is not the same as Taeko’s - and this film does such a great job writing specifically about women - her desires of wanting to find a purpose, and hesitance to detach herself from the little girl (due to the fear of adulthood), are chords that I feel many - if not all - adults would be struck by.