The only film I had seen by Isao Takahata was Grave of the Fireflies (1988), an astonishing depiction of post-war Japan. Only Yesterday is very different, a pastoral evocation of a second ‘coming of age’ of the 27 year old teacher who ‘takes’ her 10 year old self on holiday. At the start, the cross-cutting between the 10 year old Taeko and the older version is slightly confusing as it’s unmotivated by the narrative. It’s a wonderful conceit that dramatises the role of memory, and the past, in our lives.
Not without its longeurs during its 2-hour length, it has, nevertheless, some magical moments; such as when Taeko walks on air having made tentative contact with a boy who also fancies her. The Japanese countryside looks beautiful and it’s great to watch a movie that focuses on life as it is rather than life as Hollywood shows it.