For Reel

Only Yesterday (1991)
July 16, 2012, 9:46 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Isao Takahata

Studio Ghibli’s most mature film is an incomparable masterpiece. Only Yesterday defies one’s expectations of even the most progressive of animated films – it is a quietly observed recount of aging and femininity, possessing none of the sense of scale or amusement that would commonly define even Ghibli’s most restrained efforts (Whisper of the Heart being its closest relative). Set in 1982 and 1966, Grave of the Fireflies director Isao Takahata jumps between the 27-year-old Taeko, an office worker who is spending her summer on a farm in Yamagata, and her 11-year-old self, just hitting puberty and learning to make due with life’s disappointments. Whereas the sequences in the present are detailed with a hyperrealist aesthetic (going as far as animating muscle movements on the character’s faces, which is uncommon in traditional Japanese animation), the memories are suitably hazy, using expressionistic pastel watercolors to mimic the sense of remembrance. In an early sequence, Takahata recalls James Joyces’ great short story “Araby” – Taeko and her family have their first highly-anticipated bites of a pineapple, only to discover that the taste isn’t quite suited for them. Everyone but Taeko puts the fruit down, who stubbornly continues to eat in displeasure, unwilling to accept that her romantic fantasy of its sweetness has been crushed. It’s both a humorous episode and a sharply metaphoric take on adolescence, attuned to the rhythms and lessons of life with a fine understatement.

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