Taeko Okajima has lived her whole life in Tokyo, enjoying life of a single woman working in a prestigious company. But even with everything she has going for her, she still feels like something is missing in her life. Eager to get away from the humdrum of the city, Taeko decides to take a trip to the countryside and help her extended family harvest safflowers. But it is during this vacation that Taeko's old memories of her childhood struggles start bubbling to the surface. What is it about this trip that has triggered Taeko's nostalgia and will looking back help her find what she is looking for in her life?
For Studio Ghibli's western fans, Only Yesterday was the film everyone had heard about but never had an opportunity to see. There were a few glimpses, such as it's original airing on Turner Classic Movies in the original Japanese format. But unlike the other Ghibli films, it had never been dubbed or given a wide release. Part of the reason, I think, was due to the nature of the film in general. There are no supernatural beings, no action sequences, no outlandish ordeal that the films protagonist needs to overcome. It is just the story of a woman, looking back on her life to try and get a better idea on where she is going in life. Ironically, what makes this film so different is what makes it a masterpiece of both animation and film making.
To start with, the animation itself, despite having been release over two decades ago, not only still holds up but some of the best animation that has ever come out of the studio. Much like Grave of the Fireflies, the characters faces were animated to match the performances of the actors, which is normally done the other way around in Japanese animation. Though that may not exactly be the case with the English dub, the translation and transition to matching such detailed animation was completely seamless.
It's amazing how a animated film like this can take a story of a woman remembering her past while going through her day to day and not only making it a compelling narrative but a visual spectacle. Serving as a testament that animation can breath new life into the mundane and make it extraordinary. Such as a young girl coming to grips with her womanhood, her reaction to her first crush, and her active imagination on becoming an acting star.
Which is the mark of not just a great film, but an outstanding film.
While I can understand the initial hesitance to give Only Yesterday an English release, I am overjoyed that GKIDS took the opportunity to finally release it to a western audience. The slower pace and sudden transitions may not appeal to some viewers, but Only Yesterday pulls enough on the heartstrings and provides enough jaw dropping visuals that make these problems seem like nitpicks. If you love Studio Ghibli and all that it has brought to the world of animation, Only Yesterday is a must see. Give it a watch and you may find yourself coming out of the experience with more than you expected.
For our list of theatre locations for Only Yesterday, check out the list here For more info on the film, check out GKIDS website here.