Monday, July 5, 2010

REVIEW: Only Yesterday

おもひでぽろぽろ (Omohide Poro Poro)

Released: 1991

Isao Takahata

Starring (voice talent):
Miki Imai
Toshiro Yanagiba
Yoko Honna
Mayumi Iizuka
Masahiro Ito

Running time: 118 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

Memory is a funny thing. Minutely specific details can jump out (a sound, smell or taste), but entire events or people can simply slip away without you even noticing it. It can play tricks on you in a variety of ways too - by creating deja vus, by manufacturing recollections of things that can be proven not to have occurred and by mixing details from separate events into one single instance. It can also obscure the passage of time by making things that have happened recently feel like they've been settled into your memories for ages, while moments that transpired years ago can feel like they happened just the other day. And you just never know when those memories will surface.

Director Isao Takahata will likely always be remembered for his 1988 masterpiece "Grave Of The Fireflies", but it would be an injustice if his follow-up film from 1991 "Only Yesterday" (as yet un-released in North America) was not mentioned right alongside it. Though less fantastical than most of the Studio Ghibli offerings, it's filled with just as much wonder and gorgeous animation. It tells the story of Taeko, a mid-20s office worker who is somewhat spinning her wheels in her life and decides to take a vacation out to the country to visit some relatives. This decision causes numerous flashbacks to her days as a 10 year old 5th grader coping with a different set of struggles - boys, older sisters, unsupportive parents and the news that menstruation awaits her (that last item is one of the rumoured reasons why Disney - owners of the North American rights - have not released the film in Region 1). As Taeko leaves Tokyo by train and begins her vacation, random moments from her days as a ten year old come flooding back to her. Takahata shows us these memories by transitioning between the current day Taeko and her ten year old self and builds up a full picture of the woman she has become. Your experiences - what you've done, what's happened to you, etc. - are part and parcel of what you are.

Among the joyful rememberances of her first love - a beautifully imagined sequence of a little girl floating up in the air and eventually down into her bed after talking with the boy who is rumoured to like her - and small successes in school plays, we also see illuminating segments of a mother who doesn't understand her daughter's creative side (she'd prefer the girl was a good eater instead of being a good essay writer) and a father who is completely uninvolved and can shatter a dream without even removing his eyes from his daily newspaper. Did this lack of support for her different set of talents cause her to settle for the rather bland city life she has accepted? Fortunately Takahata doesn't attempt to draw the specific conclusions by relating each memory with current events and just lets them flow from Taeko. As she gets accustomed to her countryside duties of harvesting safflowers, she has plenty of time to sort through these varied recollections. She also has plenty of time to get to know a young farmer named Toshio.

Takahata too takes his time throughout the film. There's a lovely section that describes the various labourious steps involved in creating rouge from those harvested safflowers which, when combined with the truly beautiful hand-drawn images, becomes fascinating. Of course, the film is filled with panoramic views of the hills and valleys of the farming region, but it's always inventive in creating new ways of showing them. One particular scene shows an overhead view of Taeko and Toshio driving along a waterside road while the crytal clear lake water reflects the bright blue sky above and allows the sun to poke out whenever the shoreline dips in a bit. There's obviously a strong pull to the country for Taeko, but her background prevents her from completely embracing it. Your past has helped create what you are today, but even though it can get in the way sometimes, it can also help bring things into sharper focus. This is brilliantly shown in the film's concluding scenes that not only make relevant use of Bette Midler's song "The Rose", but make it reasonate in a very moving way. This is a film that will stay with you for a long time.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

1 comment:

Elana said...

True facts. I love this film. I will never look at a pineapple the same way again! I try to explain to people why pineapples are suddenly such sentimental objects to me, but I realize it's just masterful film-making and something you have to see for yourself.