Those that enjoy watching anime feature lengths will generally know that Studio Ghibli never fail to produce captivating stories that will stay in your mind long past the time that you watched them. ‘Only Yesterday’ is another one of these of films.
The film, although without much of a plot, follows 27 year old, unmarried Taeko (Daisy Ridley) – a Tokyo city worker who dreams of living in the countryside. When she was little she went on holiday there, and so spends her adult summers working in the fields to regain a taste of country life. The film flits backwards and forwards between the present day and the past, allowing us to get large glimpses into Taeko’s childhood and the struggles that she faced. We also watch her become friends with young farmer Toshio (Dev Patel) during her summer – a friendship that leads to quite dramatic self-discovery.
Out of all of Studio Ghibli’s films, this one has the slowest pace and the least hint of a typical storyline, but it nonetheless is still a joy to watch. It feels handcrafted, like a piece of art, with wonderful visuals as always, and a beautiful soundtrack that incorporates some cultural Hungarian and Romanian music that really fits with the mood. Many of the flashbacks, are long, drawn-out scenes of simple activities, such as pineapple being sliced and eaten as Haeko tries it for the very first time, but the gentleness is captivating, and felt vital to the film.
The quiet mood of the film really echoes the mood that Haeko is looking for – a certain stillness that she just can’t locate in the bustling streets of Tokyo. Included are also some lovely scenes of imagination and fantasy, which again bring the viewer back to the escapism that Haeko desperately seeks.
Something I thought was really spot on, was the depictions of classic children’s experiences throughout Haeko’s memories, such as the awkward meeting she had with her first crush, the embarrassing first period talk at school, and the stubbornness at not getting her own way. Having experienced most of that myself (as I’m sure many other viewers have as well) there was something incredibly familiar about the flashbacks, and it opened a connection with Haeko that we just would not have developed had the film focused more on her future.
By the end of the film I was in the exact same mindset of Haeko, praying that some good would come of her summertime experiences, and that she’d be able to move forward to the life that she couldn’t quite admit that she desired. And that’s what Studio Ghibli consistently get right in their animations – their character development is so personable that you almost become the main character as you watch. It didn’t even feel animated at points, with storytelling and dialogue so far from the cartoon nature that you expect.
Although the stillness might be difficult for those that are perhaps so used to Taeko’s Tokyo way of life, being able to just sit and reflect on the message behind this film is something that everyone should do. The story will be greatly appreciated by anyone who also feel they need to escape modern working life for a bit, and perhaps also by the ones that haven’t realised it yet.
I give Only Yesterday a 5/5
Only Yesterday at CeX
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