Only Yesterday
(Omohide poro poro) (1991)
Directed by Isao Takahata

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * * ½

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Synopsis and Analysis
Isao Takahata's animated movie Only Yesterday is, I must admit, burdened with a number of severe flaws. The ending is puerile, sickeningly sweet, and sentimental. There are times when the film preaches, and Takahata includes one moment of such dreadfulness I felt embarrassed for him when I saw it. Irrespective of these weaknesses, Only Yesterday is both visually lovely and filled with a variety of evocative incidents. It is, consequently, likely to captivate the viewer through most of its duration.

The movie intertwines depictions of a twenty-seven year old woman's visit to the countryside with her reminiscences of her childhood. The viewer thus sees how this woman, Taeko, became the person she is, with all her faults and virtues. I could personally identify with her when watching many of the events depicted in the film and could not help but be profoundly touched by the experiences shown. Some of the scenes of Taeko's childhood, which is a very ordinary childhood, without any extreme or exaggerated events, are wonderfully affecting.

What is more, Only Yesterday is visually stunning, containing images of poignant beauty. The events of the movie's present are animated in the style common to most of the other films produced at Studio Ghibli, but the scenes depicting the heroine's childhood are animated in soft, lovely, and somehow melancholy pastels. The effects the director achieves with each style, and with the contrast of either with the other, are as stirring as are the events being related.

In fact, one of the movie's most appealing characteristics is the way in which it merges two distinct artistic media, that of narrative drama and that of painting. Each supports and enhances the other, and both contribute to the movie's overall aesthetic worth. If it were not for its occasional but grating flaws, Only Yesterday would have been a true masterpiece.

The film really is surprisingly innovative and sensitively realized. Takahata takes animation away from its traditional themes in Only Yesterday and directs his movie at adults rather than children. Unfortunately, although there are numerous touching moments and some beautiful animation, the film's weaknesses are severe enough to keep it from being a successful work of art.

Only Yesterday is an unusual movie in that it is well worth seeing even though it is profoundly flawed. While many viewers are likely to be bothered by the same faults that bothered me, many will also be deeply moved by a number of the episodes included in the film.

Review by Keith Allen

Note: Only Yesterday is available on DVD at YesAsia.

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