Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday Review

[MINOR SPOILERS]

Only Yesterday has finally been released with an English dubbing after 25 years after its initial release! Why did it take so long? Well, we’ll get to that a little later.

Based on the manga of the same name, Only Yesterday was written and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya) and is Studio Ghibli’s 14th released feature film. Initially coming out in 1991, we’re here to discuss whether or not it was worth the wait.

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The year is 1982, and unmarried, 20-something Taeko (Daisy Ridley) decides to take a well-deserved break to the country, to escape the city life she has grown ever so used to. On her journey, she begins to recall memories of her childhood, when she was in 5th grade living with her family still. At this point, you notice the change in art styles between these segments. In the flashbacks, the style is more charming and whimsical, perhaps to represent her innocence as a child, whereas in the present day, the art gives off a sense of realism, putting more detail in facial structure and the environments creating a contrast between the two. Another detail I must point out is that the flashback segments fade into white at the edges, and have less detail in the background, this is because when you try to recall memories, what you see is hazy, and hard to focus on every detail. I felt that small detail was a stroke of genius and is what you’d expect from Takahata.

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The past segments focus on the innocence, awkwardness, and harshness of growing older. Going from learning about menstruation, to childhood crushes, the film serves as a nostalgic journey back to when times were simpler but didn’t make much sense. The film does an excellent job of capturing this, do you remember trying something for the first time only to be left disappointed? The ‘pineapple scene’ perfectly encapsulates this, showing the family wonder at the novelty of the tropical fruit, such a small moment that doesn’t at all add to the narrative of the film, but shows us the characters, and how they work off of each other.

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The present segments show Taeko making a friendship with a farmhand called Toshio (Dav Patel) and getting along with the others also residing at the farm. There’s a point where we learn that Taeko is both unmarried and single and that she doesn’t see it as a bad thing at all, and almost takes pride in that fact, showing that there’s nothing wrong with not being anyone. Which for a film that released in 1991 is pretty remarkable.

The voice work in this film is great, especially during the past segment. However, as much as an unpopular opinion this is, I didn’t feel that Daisy Ridley and Dav Patel suited the character’s they were playing, it felt very disjointed from what I was seeing on screen. Not to say that their acting was bad, just that they perhaps weren’t suited for this film.

As I was listing what topics the past segments detail, you might have discovered the reason as to why the film was held back for so long. That’s right, the mention of periods was one of the biggest reasons as to why the film didn’t get released for so long. Well, that and its low marketability at the time. After 25 years, many fans of the studio should be content knowing that their collection will be complete with the DVD and BD release.

All in all, I heartily recommend this film, with all the action and drama we see nowadays, this is something fresh (even after 25 years) to see. A nostalgic slice of life movie that is filled to the brim with beautiful visuals and is empowering to watch.

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