Thursday, February 25, 2016

Only Yesterday

Director Isao Takahata's Only Yesterday, an animated look at a 27-year-old woman who can't quite shed the anxieties and inhibitions of her fifth-grade self, was released in Japan in 1991. The movie is now making its journey through the US, and it surely was worth the wait. Only Yesterday, which I saw in a dubbed English-language version,* tells a story that easily could have been presented as a live action feature. Voiced by Daisy Ridley, Taeko takes a leave from her job to travel into the country to pick flowers on a commercial farm. The story flashes back and forth between Taeko's country trip and her childhood, which is presented gently but realistically. The movie's childhood scenes include the cruel teasing that Taeko and other girls receive over menstruation, and delineate her relationship with a stern and indifferent father. Almost always hidden behind a newspaper, Dad won't let Taeko participate in a theatrical event for which she has been chosen. Takeo's relationship with her mother and two older sisters also is marked by contentiousness. In the country, Taeko meets Toshio (Dev Patel), an entirely decent fellow who's devoted to conserving the land. Toshio might be a romantic interest for Taeko -- if she can overcome her tendency toward self-isolation. American audiences who remember Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2914) should find, in this earlier film, a story that's animated with care and occasional fanciful touches. Takahata serves up splashes of nostalgia along the way, but the real reason to see the film, adapted by Takahata from a manga, is its understanding of the child that lives within Taeko, sometimes bringing back treasured or troubled memories and sometimes keeping her from realizing her fullest potential.

*In Denver, the movie will show alternately in dubbed versions and the original Japanese.

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