March 11th, 2016

Firechick's Anime Reviews: Only Yesterday

I give Ghibli's most realistic 83/100.

When it comes to directing anime, anime directors can have some WEIRD career paths. Mamoru Hosoda went from directing the early Digimon movies and a REALLY DARK One Piece movie to making realistic and somewhat whimsical but well liked movies like Summer Wars and Wolf Children. Usually, artists try to stick with what they're good at. One director worked on a few episodes of Death Note, the Blade anime, Kobato, and Chi's Sweet Home. Dark anime and sweet, light, cutesy anime. Weird, right? Ghibli is no exception. It's a well known fact that Isao Takahata is really good at depicting realism in his movies, and as of this review, I agree. Trust me, if you watch Only Yesterday, you're going to find a scene or moment you can easily relate to no matter what country you're from. Takahata's repertoire is a little strange, but not nearly as strange as others. You have Grave of the Fireflies, a war story about two kids struggling to survive in Japan during World War II, Pom Poko, a (really bad) comedy that shows tanuki trying to save their home from humans and is nothing more than an environmental mouthpiece, Tale of Princess Kaguya, a fantasy story adapting one of the most well known Japanese tales alive, and Only Yesterday, a realistic, down to earth period piece about a city woman wondering what's missing in her life who remembers memories from the 5th grade.

That's basically the story in a nutshell. In 1982, Taeko Okajima, a 27-year-old woman living in the city, works as an office worker at an ad agency. This was when Japan was experiencing it's "bubble" economy, where everything was plentiful and the nation was swimming in innovation after the war. But she dreams of living in the countryside and having a quiet farming life, just like when she was a child. Her sister actually marries someone who owns a farm, and, delighted by the thought of having family in the country, decides to take a ten-day vacation to help with the safflower harvest. The farm is an organic one, and eco-tourism was very new at the time. But Taeko finds herself haunted by memories of the past, namely 5th grade, when she was just a little girl wanting to be herself and do what she wanted no matter what anyone said, surrounded by new things such as leather purses and The Beatles.

Isao Takahata is very well liked in the anime movie community, and even though he's not as well known as Miyazaki, his movies are pretty well liked, and he's often called the father of realism. With this movie, it really shows. Everything in this movie feels very real, like you've seen or experienced something just like this in real life. From the simple, very Japanese character designs, to the dialogue, this movie takes great pains to be as realistic and true to life as possible, even more so considering that the majority of the movie takes place not only in the 80s, but the 60s, during a time when the economy was booming and things like pineapples, electric guitars, miniskirts, and TV were luxuries that everyone wanted to have. I must admit, Takahata did a great job in keeping true to the fads and norms of both the 80s and 60s in the movie. I took plenty of classes in college involving Japan's culture, and I learned a lot about how the wars affected Japan and how the economy boomed during that time, so I can say for sure that he definitely gets an A+ in that department.

What's there to be said about Ghibli's animation style that hasn't been said already? The character designs are simple but they work in the movie's favor, making the characters look realistically Japanese, not stereotypically anime, even if they do make subtle jabs at stereotypical shoujo manga styles and overly sparkly anime eyes sometimes, something I found to be really funny. The movement is very smooth and fluid, par for the course for Ghibli. The music is also very good, though I do have to question some music choices, such as putting in Mexican flamenco music during a baseball game. But even in that regard, the movie replicates famous songs from the 60s, such as the famous puppet show Hyokkori Hyoutan Island's opening theme, and other songs I don't know the names of. Although...I do think the whole Taeko sitting in a room watching a puppet show with that song that goes "Poor Boy" kind of dragged. A lot. But other than that, it's still good!

(more to come soon)