Only Yesterday (1991) is an anime from Studio Ghibli, that is only now (finally) being released in many non-Japanese markets. Directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of The Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya), it tells the story of a 27-year-old worker named Taeko Okajima, who travels to the countryside to meet some friends, while reminiscing about her childhood in the 1960’s. Beautiful, poignant, and full of heart, Only Yesterday is a real winner of an anime film.
One of the things that makes Only Yesterday work so well, is how it presents the main character of Taeko (dubbed in English as an adult by Daisy Ridley, and as a child by Allison Fernadez). Taeko is clearly a confident, calm, and reasonably likeable character, despite being presented as being a bit not so bright as a child. Her relationships with her family are seen in flashbacks, including her understanding mother and stubborn, somewhat unlikeable father, and are believable. As is her relationship with Toshio, a farmer who teaches her how difficult and different city life is to that of country life. The flashbacks, as well as her present day story, really contribute to the characters’ story-arc throughout the film.
Only Yesterday is very unique in how it presents its animation. There are several day-dream sequences, where Taeko, as a child has a pink, yellow, and blue sky background. These sequences are clearly done in an attempt to show her imagination going wild. Additionally, director Takahata, in a rare move in Japanese animation, decided to record the adult sequences first, and then animated them. This was an attempt to give the characters more realistic muscles and facial expressions. Thankfully, it paid off, as the film is gorgeous to look at. Allegedly, this is what led to the film taking so long to be released in the United States as dubbing into English would have been extremely hard given these circumstances.
As is the case with as all Studio Ghibli productions, the music by Katsu Hoshi is simply amazing. From the beautiful piano tune, to the Western-sounding theme played at the start of the school’s baseball game, and the Oriental-sounding music played near the end, it all works well to help create the overall mood of the film.
Only Yesterday is a very charming and beautiful movie, about growing-up, and really letting go of the past. It was fun to follow Taeko’s story with beautiful animation and music. It’s a film that can be appreciated by both children and adults, and it feels more realistic than fantasy, and the better for that.