Only Yesterday is a 1991 released Studio Ghibli’s character drama movie that deals with deeper life meaning. It follows a 27 years old working woman, Taeko as she makes a journey of a lifetime visiting some distant relative in the countryside. This journey is self-discovery through re-discovery when Taeko goes to encounter a more pastoral experience while reminiscing on her childhood memories growing up in a suburban environment. Directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the fireflies), this Japanese animated drama film “Only Yesterday” never just exaggerated features or actions, rather the world has been explored and the feelings are manifested through metaphors.
When granted 10 days off to a vacation she passionately heads to Yamagato to serve as a field hand-harvesting safflower. But her 11-year-old self came to life as if to release all the emotional charges around her past memory. There is subtleness in how Takahata evokes Taeko’s adolescence, isolation, and longing and how this interlocks with her present viability and ingenuity from what we are fed to watch these days.
Each moment in the countryside made her question the life discussion she took and their consequence, how the incidents in the past formed herself, would her past self appreciate the life she is living, is she living her womanhood to the fullest, what actually does she want from her life? She finally realizes that how mates, school, and family molded her.
This journey provokes her to take chances she might not otherwise take as we finally witness her choosing what she has really wanted and we as an audience feel uplifted with the beautiful ending.
Apart from the pleasing theme it also plays best at the animation part, viewers can witness the use of color and visual design to pull us into Taeko’s perspective and explore this journey through her own eyes. The pacing and relation between snapshots of past and present provided it a genius way of storytelling.
When characters are in present, the animation looks crisp, clear, and vibrant, looks very realistic, whenever she is reminiscent about her childhood however everything has a haze around it, not much detail is given about the background. Isn’t it what we experience while going down memory lane, revisiting our past self? They both elevate the work as a whole and these visual distinctions help viewers to make temporal distinctions at a glance making conscious and unconscious connections with the characters.
Only Yesterday gives a reminder that Mr. Miyazaki wasn’t the only director at Ghibli as Takahata’s film both bespeak the requirement to question and gain of questioning the bequest tossed to us by our childhood.