Optimum Asia's Studio Ghibli Collection sadly draws to a close with the release of another superb film. Studio Ghibli fly the flag for Japanese animation in my opinion, I have yet to see a film from them I didn't enjoy and although Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday is quite different in tone and focus to the rest of the studio's canon, it certainly didn't break that trend.
The story focuses on Taeko, a bored office
worker in her twenties who heads for a working holiday in the countryside.
She realises her youth is fading and seeks a break to renew herself, and
returning to the fields and farmland she grew up in seems the perfect way to
take stock. The simpler life and the rolling hills bring back memories of
her youth, and as she ponders such forgotten experiences as school crushes and
growing up in rural Japan she begins to question her current life. Has she
stayed true to the dreams of her youth? How has she changed and how would
her young self view her?
Only Yesterday is a bit of a departure not only for Studio Ghibli but for anime in general. Sedate, halcyon and moving, the film is a beautifully crafted character piece that eschews many of the usual anime conventions. Unusually it is a film aimed at adults, focusing on a grown woman taking stock of her life, dreams and expectations. The story is brilliantly executed, switching effortlessly between a thoughtful tale of escapism and reflection and the trials and tribulations of youth in a rural Japanese prefecture. It's beautiful to watch as Taeko's memories come to life on screen, a bittersweet
tale of sunny school days, triumphs and defeats. The slice-of-life style shows is at turns funny (such as her father getting a pineapple when such things were rare and then not knowing how to eat it), cheerful and tragic, and evokes memories of your own youth when you watch it.
Whilst the story is well executed it is the animation and quality of the visuals that really take your breath away. The level of detail and the realism of the art is simply stunning, the scenes of early morning harvesting as the sun rises over distant, mist shrouded mountains are beautiful, Takahata has taken a huge amount of care to ensure authenticity and it really shows. The visuals perfectly evoke the times in which the film is set and the simpler, pastel shaded Japan of Taeko's childhood is particularly striking. In fact the only real gripe with the art is the attempts to make Taeko look older by accentuating the lines of her cheeks and mouth sometimes make her look too old, which is a bit of a shame.
minor, in no way do they overpower the film and the excellent story does have some nicely handled romantic elements too.
Only Yesterday is a near perfect character-driven tale of personal reflection packed with great scenes and some of the most breathtaking art to ever grace an animated film. The characters are likeable and interesting and the constant switching between the past and the present is really well done and never feels contrived. It may be a bit slow for some and the appeal for younger viewers may be limited, but as a work of art it is hard to fault and becomes increasingly meaningful and relevant as you get older. A beautifully realised and pretty unique anime film which is a perfect addition to any serious film fan's collection.
As with the previous Studio Ghibli Collection releases the disc comes complete with full storyboards for the film and a selection of Ghibli trailers. However, don't be fooled by the last extra, the 'making of featurette' is no way a featurette. It is actually a lengthy and in depth documentary detailing the making of the film and providing some real insight into how Studio Ghibli works. I've always thought the Isao Takahata is unfairly overlooked by Western fans who can't see further than Hayao Miyazaki, so to see him in the limelight in this excellent documentary is very refreshing. The documentary is the best of its kind available in the UK, and is worth buying the film for on its own - superb.