(see initial review)
Back in the days when most Ghibli films were still available primarily from Lord-knows-how-many-generation digital sources, Only Yesterday was one of the first I saw. I respected the sumptuous animation and enjoyed the film quite a bit. Back then, I would've given this movie a five stars, simply because like most Studio Ghibli works, it was head and shoulders above anything else then available.
Time changes everything. New movies become old, and people gain life experiences and become (hopefully) a little wiser for the wear. Sometimes, old favorites fall by the wayside, replaced by things that are newer, shinier, better.
For Only Yesterday, this is not the case at all. Instead, revisiting this film is like meeting an old friend all over again ... though in the case of heroine Taeko, the old friend she rediscovered was herself.
Interestingly, Only Yesterday is based on a manga composed entirely of stories involving Taeko narrating her experience as a small child. These anecdotes are told as flashbacks in the movie. The very idea of presenting modern-day (or at least 1982) Taeko as a character in her own right, which transforms this from a series of vignettes to a story about self-discovery and identity, was all the director's idea, and it is a gamble that pays off immensely, though it may throw off first-time viewers used to more linear forms of storytelling.
Those viewers patient enough to allow the story to unfold are treated to something special. Taeko (past and present) feels like a real person, rather than an archetype. Toshio is goofy and a little simple, but realistically portrayed. It was like picking up a favorite book, or maybe more like watching a good live-action drama; I stopped thinking of Taeko and Toshio as characters, and started relating to them and caring what happened to them, all over again. I felt like I really knew these people.
It helps immensely that the animation still holds us fifteen years later - the backgrounds are still wonderfully photorealistic, and it's like you can feel the wind rippling through the safflower fields and rice paddies, or the rain pattering on the windshield of Toshio's diminutive, underpowered little car. Of course, using real locales always goes a long way in establishing setting, and places such at Mount Zao look just as they are in real life. This helps gloss over the fact that the portrayal of the Yamagata countryside might be a touch idealized and oversimplified, especially compared to super-busy, concrete-gray Tokyo. Having traveled a few inaka roads myself in other parts of Japan, I can't see as I blame them all that much, though unlike when this film was created, even "modern" 1982 feels like a bygone, innocent era, much less Taeko's childhood in 1966.
Granted, it is hard to tell which shines more - the incisive, sometimes poignant look at Taeko's 11-year-old self, or the very real questions and worries of her 27-year-old self. And while some may accuse the ending of being a touch abrupt, it gave me a huge case of the warm fuzzies, even more than the first time.
It's so nice to watch a movie that feels so right.
Only Yesterday has become a personal favorite, and this complex, nuanced film is a salve for folks burned out on today's endless torrent of fan service and vacuous content. Those who prefer faster-paced films or can not relate to straight character pieces may want to avoid this, though frankly, you're missing out. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: There is some discussion of puberty and menstruation during the segments with ten-year-old Taeko, which really shouldn't upset anyone but probably will anyway.
Version(s) Viewed: Television broadcast, Japanese with English subtitles
Review Status: Full (1/1)
Only Yesterday © 1994 Tokuma Shoten
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