I could never make sense of the division of fractions which involved reversing the numerator and the denominator to multiply. I hated Mathematics, and was always better in writing essays, although my loved ones would choose the former in favor of the latter any given day. And I also happen to be a very picky eater. So when I watched Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, I felt like hugging myself, having found an acquaintance in Taeko which I had never found in real life. And guess what ? She is a girl.
Although I admire American animation (Wall-E and Ratatouille adorn my Great Movies collection), I have with good reasoning always considered it inferior to Japanese animation. I have strongly felt that computer animation can never top the beauty that hand-drawn strokes evoke, which seem to transcend every frame from a mere cartoon to a larger than life experience.
Furthermore, there seems to be a dearth of strong-willed, free-spirited female characters in American animation. With the exception of only Merida from Brave, every animated movie from the United States seems hell-bent to constrain girls into thinking that finding the Charming Prince Perfect seems to be their only tryst with destiny.
And here comes a wonderful bundle of joy from Japan which addresses both these pressing issues without ever drawing attention towards them. The more I think about it, the more I admire the way Takahata has incorporated the aspects American animation has evaded and even more, the tranquil manner of doing so.
At a time where the fairer sex is finally getting the representation they deserve, movies like Only Yesterday are boons. It creates a character who is relatable and lovable irrespective of the confines of gender and nationality. Having Takahata as the screenplay writer helps, for Taeko encapsulates the male interpretation of female puberty, helping the male audience to be never distant from her.
Instead of the corrals a hard-bound screenplay has in store, Takahata succeeds in creating an experience. There is a plot, but it willingly takes the backseat when the characters assume control. What results is something more or less like life itself – sometimes painful, sometimes joyous and limitless ennui.
And further greater is the painstaking manner of staging scenes. Take a scene where a boy from school admits his love to Taeko. He comes in nervously, blushing, and stands speechless. An awkward silence follows, finally broken by him asking Taeko whether she prefers a sunny, cloudy or rainy day. She replies cloudy and he smiles in mutual agreement. What follows for the next minute is a wonderful silence, crafting one of the most romantic moments I have seen in cinema. Unlike other movies, there isn’t a fatuous conversation that follows to ascertain their love. Takahata seems to know that silence fills the voids as well.
Another great scene involves Taeko asking permission to act while having dinner. She poses the question, and glances at her mother. Her mother glances, at her father, with Taeko’s vision too shifting to him. Without a single word, Takahata shows where the power centers lie in the house.
The ending is something to be seen to be believed. An entire world channelizes a decision which would have been corny in any other scenario. Maybe that’s how the movie can be pretty much summed up as well ‘It is something to be seen to be believed’.
RATING :- 9.5 / 10
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