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As she travels to the country for her highly anticipated vacation, 27-year-old Tokyo office worker Taeko thinks back on her childhood. Moving back and forth from the present in 1982 to Taeko's girlhood in 1966, Isao Takahata's poetic animated film Only Yesterday (1991) (loosely translated as "Memories of Falling Teardrops" in Japanese) captures the grave and magical essence of childhood defined by schoolgirl crushes, a changing body, the stern judgments and occasional cruelty of Taeko's parents and pleasures as simple as the taste of pineapple. Takahata's film is also a glimpse at the difficult road for girls and women who do not conform to the well-behaved, studious model of proper femininity. At various turns Taeko is forced to bend her imagination and willfulness to the pressures of Japanese conformity.
At a crossroads in her life, Taeko is under pressure to marry but has not found a suitable mate. Visiting her sister and brother-in-law in rural Yamagata, she helps cultivate safflowers to be used in lipstick coloring. There she also meets her brother-in-law's cousin, Toshio (Toshiro Yanagiba), an organic farmer passionate about growing things, who enchants Taeko with the purity of his vision.
Exquisitely beautiful and perceptive, this nostalgic remembrance of times past was based on a manga comic geared toward adult women by Yuko Tone and Kei Okamoto. Only Yesterday proves the suitability of the form for handling complex and adult content and is also highly cinematic. While other Japanese filmmakers have moved toward fantasy and science fiction, Takahata has embraced the tender realism of Jean Renoir and carved a progressive new path for animation. Proving the public embrace of this innovative, more realistic form, the film was a box office success, especially among josei or teenage and adult female audience members.
Tone and Okamoto's original manga focused on short stories centered on the daily life of 11-year-old Taeko. But it was director Takahata who created the film's concept of the adult narrator looking back on her girlhood to organize the short stories into a cohesive plot.
Only Yesterday director Isao Takahata graduated from Tokyo University and in 1959 joined the animation studio Toei Doga where he made what is considered one of the greatest animated Japanese films Horus: The Prince of the Sun (1968).
Takahata later became a colleague of famed animator Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke, 1997), and worked with Miyazaki on a number of features including the television series Lupin III (1971) and Anne of Green Gables (1979). The pair continued to work on many productions as a director/animator team at the animation Studio Ghibli. The directors/animators eventually secured distribution rights with Disney, which agreed to release their films in the United States in 1996.
Producer: Hayao Miyazaki
Director: Isao Takahata
Screenplay: Isao Takahata
Art Direction: Yoshiyuki Momose
Music: Katsu Hoshi
Cast: Miki Imai (Taeko), Toshiro Yanagiba (Toshio), Youko Honna (young Taeko), Mayumi Iizuka (Tsuneko Tani), Masahiro Ito (Father), Chie Kitagawa (Taeko's Grandmother).
by Felicia Feaster