By Arpad OkayOnly Yesterday is made up of little stories we normally keep to ourselves. It’s wistful, nostalgic for childhood, not necessarily for the ephemera of a certain era, but the feeling of discovery that is inherent in being a child. A collection of moments all bundled together. Romantic and sweet, funny and relatable, occasionally quite serious. Basically human. The story of how Taeko Okajima got her groove back is like one of Shakespeare’s problem plays, a bit of comedy and a bit of tragedy mixed as the author sees fit, made to resemble the human condition.

Being too real is why Only Yesterday is seeing wide release in America for the first time 25 years after its creation. The film deemed “undubbable” has been given its first English language version (featuring Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel) for its 2016 theatrical and home video release. “Undubbable”, why? Isao Takahata makes the Studio Ghibli movies that are not for children. His Grave of Fireflies is famous for being heartbreaking, and rightly so. And in keeping with FirefliesOnly Yesterday is somber and sophisticated. Instead of forest spirits, witches and flying pigs, Takahata found wonder in nature and the human spirit. The medium of animation is used to empower Takeo’s imagination, to let us share with her how she felt, as well as what she did.

Those moments with her of actually walking on air are really just icing on the cake. Daydreams aside, Takahata’s film philosophy sounds like it’s straight out of the Cahiers du Cinéma, and his direction is just as Vivre Sa Vie. The natural world is as beautiful as anything we can dream up, and the color that flushes our cheeks is all the makeup we’ll ever need to be movie star beautiful.


Only Yesterday lingers in the moments outside the narrative. Not on Takeo’s job or whatever led up to her feeling unhappy with city life. Only Yesterday is at its most powerful when Takeo is feeling guilty over wasting onions, or spotting a crow flying on the horizon. When saffron flowers are swaying back and forth. A frog’s call after the sun goes down, a kitchen knife slicing through the rind of a pineapple, a list of specifically selected impressions to make you feel incredibly aware of being alive.

More specifically, to be alive as Takeo Okajima. The soft watercolor paintings of her past and the sharply defined contours of her present. We spend time with her family, her friends, the people who walk with her as she searches for her path in life. Only Yesterday is a love story, of relationships familial and platonic. Aren’t the best friends almost always the highlight of the rom com anyway? Takeo gets all the relationships, and there’s still love to spare for being young, for being present in the moment, for taking those first steps out of childhood, into the world.

Directed by Isao Takahata.

 Produced by Studio Ghibli.

 Written by Hotaru Okamoto, Yuuko Tone, and Isao Takahata.

 Starring the voices of Miki Imai, Toshirô Yanagiba, Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel.

 8 out of 10