Only Yesterday

On Sunday afternoon we took the girl to see the 1991 Studio Ghibli film Only Yesterday (part of a great SG retrospective screening at Pacific Cinematheque, which ends tomorrow), and it was quite a lovely romp. It was her first non-dubbed foreign language film, and she wasn’t able (as predicted) to keep up with all the subtitle reading. So a number of (I counted about a dozen) whispered explanations about what was going on  (thanks to mummy) ensued.

We have been spending the past couple of days discussing our various rank ordered lists (for some reason we’re obsessing on rank ordered lists these days) of best and worst parts of this film. Here are hers as best as I can reconstruct them, starting with the top 5 “best” parts:

  1. the scene where Taeko, the protagonist, takes flight while walking home, besotted with the awkward boy who plays baseball really well. Taeko then lands in her bed, and a pink heart puffs out of her window;
  2. the scene where they’re picking flowers to make rouge;
  3. the scene where the schoolboys learn about girls’ periods, which prompts them to try and peek up the girls’ skirts, which prompts the girls to chase the boys around, whacking them with brooms (my #1 favourite scene, BTW);
  4. the scene where the family uncomfortably eats a fresh pineapple for the very first time; and
  5. the scene where Taeko acts in her school play, embellishing her scripted lines.

I won’t list off the worst parts, but she did find it highly traumatic to witness Taeko get struck by her father; she cried at this.

I think that this was perhaps one of the best Ghibli films ever made, though I don’t have enough time to discuss here its merits in much depth. Takahata skillfully weaves its present and past narratives, its striking urban and pastoral imagery, as well as the interleaved-yet-conflictual desires and fears of its main characters into a harmonious whole that ends exactly as it should. It feels strange for me to buy into a love story like this, but leave it to Ghibli to pull off that Herculean feat. OK let’s emblematize that last sentence: this is the only instance since Napoleon Dynamite where I’ve appreciated the use of the song “The Rose” (here sung in Japanese):