This film surprised me in a lot of ways. For some reason I hadn't set my expectations particularly high for this film, perhaps because the description suggested something quite low-key for Studio Ghibli, even despondent as it explored the life of a single, twenty-something girl living in Japan, but I needn't have worried in the slightest. This film is INCREDIBLE. I dare risk saying (despite loving `Howl's Moving Castle') that `Only Yesterday' would have to be my favourite Studio Ghibli film, or at the very least the one I've found the most rewarding.
The short clips I'd seen in the Ghibli catalogue trailers suggested to me this was something of a curiosity, an experiment for the studio that was never repeated. But this film has huge universal appeal, I'm surprised something similarly grounded and character-based hasn't been made since. *Although `Whisper of the Heart' is along the same lines, but to me doesn't succeed anywhere near as well as `Only Yesterday' in terms of character and relatable themes. The central character is female, I'm male, she grew up in the 1960's in Japan, I grew up in the 1990's in England...two people couldn't be more dissimilar, right? Well I was astounded by how much I identified with Taeko's character (ok, not her friends' P.E. problem I admit, but everything else...school life, family life, successes, failures, loves, losses, disaffectedness etc etc). So I reason her story must be universal considering how much I empathised with her and I was totally gripped from start to finish!
I've never seen a film that has encapsulated so perfectly what it means to grow old, but not necessarily to grow up, to mature, but still long for days gone by, to find yourself at a crossroads in life, but have no idea the best course to follow as well as `Only Yesterday'. And it achieves all this with so much humour along the way too, I was hehe-ing to myself almost as often as I was open-mouthed in recognition of so many familiar coming of age moments. Don't allow the subtitles or the occasional uses of water colour backgrounds (that may appear unfinished to your eyes to begin with) to deter you from watching this film- they're part of its incredible charm and you won't be disappointed by the over-all result. An incredible film. Heartily recommended.