Starring: Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Youko Hanna
Director: Isao Takahata
Running Time: 118 mins
Only Yesterday is a Japanese film following a woman who, while travelling to the countryside, reminisces about her youth and her experiences as a young girl in Tokyo.
This is a really sweet and pleasant film. Although it isn’t consistently as compelling as it starts off, it’s a well-written, very well-directed, and simply delightful treat all about the best memories of childhood that will, at times, move you.
The first act of this film is by far the best. It begins by telling how our main character, Taeko, yearns for the countryside after having lived all her life in the big city. What makes this an even stronger theme throughout is how the film then goes back into flashbacks and tells a fascinating back story as to why this woman is the way she is.
And for the first forty minutes or so, it’s almost all about Taeko’s childhood. That part of the story beautifully plays on nostalgia, and really moved me at certain moments, but the way it tells a young coming-of-age story is just so sweet and pleasant that I couldn’t help but smile my way through all of it.
What’s more is that Takahata’s direction is really impressive. It’s not just the classically beautiful Ghibli animation, but the way that Takahata so effortlessly weaves the flashbacks and the modern day in and around each other on screen, and it makes for such a swift and even more elegant atmosphere that again makes this an even more pleasant film to watch.
The second half of the film, however, isn’t as impressive. Whilst the light serenity of the first act is retained, and it’s hugely satisfying to see Taeko finally reach the countryside after dreaming of it for so long, the story really loses its way from what was a hugely nostalgic and touching coming-of-age tale.
It starts with one overlong conversation scene that really doesn’t feel as if it’s adding anything to the plot, and although subsequent moments do make it more relevant, it’s still not really captivating at all. Meanwhile, we get less and less flashbacks, and just more and more talking about the past.
Whilst it’s still interesting to hear about Taeko’s childhood still shaping her in the modern day, what I really missed was the fact that we were being shown everything. The flashbacks in the first act were beautiful, both due to their different visual style to present day, and the fact that they seemed so pleasant, but by the end, we don’t get as much of that, and sit with what is a more generic emotional story.
Overall, Only Yesterday is a film with a brilliant opening act, full of wonderful emotion and beautiful direction, and although it really does lose its way as the film goes on, it’s overall a very pleasant and generally interesting watch, so that’s why I’ll give it a 7.1.