I can’t think of a single logical reason why all films shouldn’t be animated. The Matrix Trilogy is so riddled with CGI it becomes Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children in all but soundtrack, and how often have I heard Babylon 5 and Legend of the Galactic Heroes mentioned in the same breath? More incredibly, when I consider shows like Gosenzo-sama Banbanzai, Paranoia Agent, and Masaaki Yuasa’s recent Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei, I realise that as a technique of film-making, animation offers far more versatility than live-action.
Nevertheless, surprisingly few animators attempt to beat live-action at its own game and challenge it for any claim it might have on realism. Perhaps because, traditionally, that’s just not what animation does. When Walt Disney defined the art in the 1930s using fairy tales, it became a means to create magic carpet rides, not to make viewers reflect on their own life journey - it was supposed to take you far, far away and not take you back. This is why Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday is vital to our understanding of animation’s true worth. Only in animated form could this humble drama about self-actualisation still grab viewers by the heart strings and tug with disproportionate force.
By depicting a reality more vivid, more precise, and more truthful than what we see around us, Takahata teases out the happiest clichés from life’s kaleidoscope of banality and inconsequence. In fact, there are so many exquisitely packaged moments, I can barely choose. I like the flashback of protagonist Taeko’s family eating a pineapple for the first time. After many hours figuring out how it should be sliced, all members crowd around the table to watch mother perform the ceremony. This touching togetherness slides brilliantly into comic anticlimax as they chomp unhappily on flesh that turns out to be hard and not as sweet as the canned stuff. Another gorgeous event involves little Taeko falling in love with a boy called Hirota, who impresses her with his baseball skills. Their frustrated confession becomes a veritable treat of emotional honesty and conveys such an outstanding sense of pacing that even the slow, shy lowering of the head becomes a precious moment to savour.
Even the structure shows a frank sense of perspective thanks to the no-nonsense cuts between Taeko’s present and past. Child-Taeko’s 1960s world is soft and cocooned and adults often hover in the background like the sky - barely noticed walls of certainty. Family dynamics are soothingly traditional, involving a moral pillar father who reads newspapers at the table, a dutiful worrier of a housewife, and sisters who bicker like hens but clearly still love each other. And the closest we get to antagonism are these family squabbles set in Polaroid perfection.
Contrast that with adult-Taeko’s 1980s world of unrewarding thrift. We first witness her alienated existence in the city, where she works in a stuffy office full of busy people and the sound of industry churning away in the background, and her last tie to family is a telephone call from her mother nagging her about her unmarried status. This segues into the sentimental longing for the countryside later as Taeko escapes the city for some long-earned rest on a safflower farm. In dazzling contrast to the scenes of childhood, where everything is ripe with potential, adulthood brings a wistful tone of regret and tentative rediscovery.
Because of this dedication to diverging narratives, the scenes of the past and of the present develop an acute emotional disconnect. The flashbacks easily deliver the most memorable scenes, resulting in a mild anticlimax whenever the present reasserts itself. On the other hand, the present offers the only forward movement in story while the past lags in a constant stasis of sweet remembrance. At some point, viewers will wonder how Taeko’s collage of childhood experiences relates to her rediscovery of the countryside and her sense of self; the show, however, appears not just to leave the question hanging, but wholly oblivious to the fact that there might be a question at all. Part of this problem may come from the fact that child-Taeko was conceived of first in the manga Omohide Poroporo by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, and Takahata’s anime adaptation added adult-Taeko’s events hoping for an overarching relevance. In reality, he seems to force the parts together without establishing any meaningful continuity, and the story loses some coherence as a result.
If Hayao Miyazaki makes sexy movies offered to the masses in the magic carpet ride tradition, then his partner Takahata creates classic beauties. They impress most when the audience takes the time to appreciate their quirks. Nonetheless, Only Yesterday pushes Takahata’s homely style furthest to the edge with children who look sweetly amorphous and adults who reveal an ugly animation first: facial muscles. Taeko’s exaggerated cheekbones never fail to pop and shudder across her face as though she had swallowed a pair of live beetles. I find them distracting dramas of their own, capturing what should be the voice actress Miki Imai’s cutest features and turning them into glaring plastic accessories. Certainly, that particular detail speaks of the technical prowess more than the inherent beauty of the show.
And oh there is beauty! Child-Taeko frolics in soft watercolour backgrounds that depict a world in perpetual daytime. In plenty of shots, the corners of each frame fade into soft focus. There are also adorable moments of fantasy to capture her subjective state, such as her flying through the air after falling in love for the first time or her eyes morphing into giant ‘Kimba’ orbs as she imagines becoming a famous actress. In contrast, adult-Taeko occupies a distinctly mechanical world defined by cars, trains, and electric fans, with plenty of scenes at night and starker backgrounds. Only Yesterday makes full use of animation’s ability to render environments more expressive than the characters: to grasp a mood, look not into the eyes of the person in the foreground, but to the subtle play of light or the spaces around them.
The movie also shows a healthy fondness for soundlessness, allowing its art and atmosphere to do much of the talking. Here, someone’s unspoken embarrassment is as poignant as the most heartfelt apology.
Otherwise natural sounds combine with playful piano music and string instrumentals for a delicate accompaniment. At its most distinctive, the soundtrack offers a Japanese language version of ‘The Rose’, a song that holds its own sentimental value for me.
Taeko is not a character to fall wildly in love with, but I find her history utterly identifiable. At first we dissect her socialisation and psychological makeup, all executed with mesmerising detail; afterwards, we sit back and savour her wholesomeness and completeness as a personality both in the past and the present. To describe Taeko is to describe any modern woman, but the keen powers of observation Takahata employs to develop her into someone universal is truly astonishing.
Again, though, the parallel narratives create a fissure between child-Taeko and adult-Taeko. Each is a triumph of characterisation but we see none of the development from one to the other. For instance, we notice that none of the stubborn spirit she had as a child remains when she is an adult, which is believable enough. People change, after all. But when Only Yesterday makes minimal attempts to explain why, a mild dissatisfaction niggles at the mind.
Only Yesterday could have been a live-action movie but that would have resulted in something utterly trite and unmoving. As an animation, however, it succeeds in bringing reality to a profound climax. Furthermore, while much anime seems an overbearing addition of gimmicks, noise, graphics, and other junk that has no real-world relevance, Only Yesterday is about stripping these things away. With the most minimalist backgrounds, Takahata ascribes a nuance and mood to the milieu that sucks us in: the sky is not just a sky, flowers are not just flowers, and memories are not just memories, but perfectly arranged foils of our lives. To love this show, appreciate not its story but its form.
Only Yesterday puts a spotlight on the most formative and important parts of our lives that we so easily forget. A beautiful film from Studio Ghibli that provokes reminiscence in any viewer.
Only Yesterday was surprisingly a very good movie to watch. The story follows Taeko in her journey to the countryside which she loves and along the way, she remembers many memories of her childhood that put in perspective who she really is. I found the story to be very original, insightful, and interesting. I think that when you reach a certain age, you start pondering about who you are and the past as it shaped you at present. I am nearly 26 year old and memories of my childhood have come to by mind quite often. At this time of your life, real life happens and then you wonder if you could be happy doing what you are doing as an adult for much longer. I think Only Yesterday does a fantastic job in putting things in perspective and eventually accepting who you are to take the right path for you. It is also hard to develop a great plot in a movie that is only close to 2 hours long, but the director did an amazing job in adapting the story in a relatively short period of time without compromising the essence of it.
The animation and sound were not as good as the plot. Since this movie was released in 1991, this is not surprising at all and if considering the timeframe when it was developed, it could actually be very well done for the time.
As far as the characters go, the story really revolves around Taeko alone. She is a very interesting character in my opinion because we explore her thoughts and personality from the past to the “present”. At a glance, she is an average person, but she becomes very insightful when remembering her past and thinking of the future.
I highly recommend this movie to anyone seeking an insightful story that anyone can relate to. This is definitely a slice of live/coming of age type of story that is very original in its own way.
Story: This film just irritates me to the point of insanity!!! D:< and why? Because it started off so good, but then it turned utterly RUBBISH, then it improved again for about 20 minutes at the conclusion then suddenly got a really awful ending.
The first hour or so of this film is just Taeko looking back on her life as a child- I found this part to be immensely interesting, way better than any other Ghibli film I'd ever seen and I was thinking to myself how I was gonna rate this 5 stars- it was so cute and sweet.
But then......the MIDDLE part of this film came into being **shudder** forget Taeko's childhood, shes a 27 year old woman now, I was hoping this bit would be interesting, but was it? No. It was about an hour of nothing but a girl surrounded by countless 90 year old grannies, picking flowers for a living. FOR A WHOLE HOUR. Seriously, that was all that happenned.
The last 20 minutes of this film then started to slightly improve, Taeko got sort of proposed to and it was interesting as you watched her try to decide what to do. But then at the end she made the totally WRONG decsion and just took a train to the city and BAM! ending credits.
It was like the first hour of this film was a absolute masterpiece, then the last hour and a half was absolute trash. I have honestly NO IDEA how I managed to sit through all of it.
Animation: The first hour of the film's animation was really good, the characters looked realistic and cute. The animation in the rest of it was fine, except for Taeko herself. She's only 27, shes young, yet whenever she so much as gave a faint, tiny smile these ENORMOUS dimples what would BLOCK OUT THE SUN would appear, making her look at LEAST 900 years old, and they appeared again and again and again and again and again, and them stupid dimples drove me to the point of INSANITY since they were so unbelieveably big and annoying- I know that sounds incredibly sad and petty but my god, they are the single most irritating thing I've ever seen in my LIFE.
Sound: The sound in this film seemed very....rowdy. In both serious and comical parts of this film the music would start up as if from nowhere, and it was all obnoxious country music what wasn't subtle and gentle like normal background music, it took over the whole film, totally killed the moods of all the scenes and made me mute the TV repeatedly.
Characters: I loved all the childhood characters, but all of the older characters in the second part of the film (including Taeko herself) I just instantly disliked, except for the guy who sort-of proposed to Taeko.
Overall: The first hour of this film= 9.5/10
The second hour and a half of this film= 3/10 at a stretch
I would have marked this anime a LOT lower, if not for the first part, I suggest only watching the first hour of this to get some sweet nostalgia of your school life, please, if you want to pass your time don't watch the remaining part of this film, shove your head up a chickens butt or something instead.
I really enjoyed the bits of this film told in the past, but I found much of the present day scenes kind of boring. In part, I think this was because there was more character interaction in the past, and so the present bits seemed slow in contrast. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, as it makes sense for someone traveling alone with what appears to be little plans for her life to think back to younger days.
I do enjoy slice of life animes, and I think a large part of that has to do with seeing everyday Japanese culture. Also, the kids were all so adorable in fifth grade. Fifth grade is an odd time in life, where you're still considered a kid, but you're on the verge of becoming a teenager. It's interesting how the school system dealt with that, and the attitudes of the kids about it.
I have to say, I don't care too much for Taeko's family. Her one sister was kind of bratty, and either helped cause a lot of the problems Taeko was dealing with, or made them worse. Her dad didn't seem to pay too much attention to his kids.
I will say my favorite bit was the beginning of the credits, when it shows both past and present colliding. It was a sweet way to end the movie.
The animation was great for the most part, but I did have an issue with how they drew older Taeko. She had roundish cheeks that appeared and disappeared. Those marks made her look way older than twenty-seven, and they also made her look funny, so I didn't like those at all. But the rest of the animation was good.
Overall, I'm really not sure how I feel about this movie. I loved the bits with young Taeko, but found the adult Taeko a little boring. I'm not opposed to watching it again sometime in the future, but it's not one I'll ever own.