Only Yesterday


Viewed – 13 August 2016  Blu-ray

I love the movies of famed Japanese animation house ‘Studio Ghibli’, which I have made no secret of and collect pretty much anything they have done.  So it was sad to hear about the studio closing and greatly anticipate their final feature ‘When Marnie Was There’ which releases on Blu-ray in the UK in October.  For now I have stumbled upon this much older release which has been given a long-awaited western release outside of it’s native Japan with a brand new English dub for those who don’t favour the original language.

only-yesterday

This tells the story of Taeko, a young woman who whilst travelling to the countryside, finds herself reminiscing about her childhood and at the same time trying to figure out her place in the world.  A gentle, whimsical tale not unlike more recent Ghibli movie ‘From Upon Poppie Hill’.  So you’ll find no sorceresses or magic castles in this one folks, as it’s more of a drama about life, love, growing up etc.  It’s all done in an utterly charming way with great voice work from it’s cast most notably The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley.  However despite interesting flashbacks and keen observations of puberty, childhood, friendship etc. I did find my mind wondering, and once Taeko reaches the countryside the story does start to plod quite noticeably to the point that watching flower picking, cooking and family meals got a bit boring.

Thankfully the art style, all hand-drawn traditional animation is beautiful – the flashbacks are done in soft-focus almost water-colour and modern day is all vibrant and brimming with detail.  Also the character of Taeko was well realised and I did find myself relating to her, causing me to reminisce over my own schooldays.  Yet it’s a movie that takes a long time to get to it’s point, focusing on the mundane a bit too much (as some Japanese animation has a tendency of doing) and is a story that’s simply ‘nice’ rather than all that engaging.  If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli it’s still worth a look, but for me, the studio has done better.

The Blu-ray looks lush…very sharp and colourful and only slightly soft I guess when the movie requires it.  The English dub although only in Dolby 2.0 is clear and works well.  This isn’t a particularly atmospheric movie so don’t expect it to wow in that department – although that closing theme song was quite lovely.  The extras are slightly above average for a Studio Ghibli release – storyboards, behind the scenes of the voice casting, a detailed (subtitled) making of and some trailers.  So decent treatment for an enjoyable if not exactly essential movie.

Verdict:

(the movie)  3 /5

(the Blu-ray)  4 /5

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The Tale Of Princess Kaguya


Viewed – 18 July 2015  Blu-ray

Following up Hayao Myazaki’s swansong The Wind Rises and perhaps continuing the brittle future of the famed Japanese animation house, this latest offering was a nerve-racking prospect to say the least.  In Myazaki’s absence could Studio Ghibli still deliver?

Kaguya

Isao Takahata (Grave Of The Fireflies, My Neighbours The Yamadas) has created a truly breath-taking example of traditional hand-drawn animation.  The whole movie is presented in a beautiful, minimalistic water-colour style that is really something to behold.  The story (based on a folk tale) follows an ageing bamboo cutter who one day discovers a tiny girl inside one of the bamboo stalks.  Taking her home to his wife, they quickly decide to raise the girl as their own.  Then rapidly and magically she grows into a beautiful young woman.  However on realising that his surrogate daughter should be treated as a Princess rather than a lowly country girl, the bamboo cutter sets forth a plan to have her married off to a wealthy man and truly realise her potential – and his own dreams of wealth.

Kaguya 2This is a very well observed movie, full of that Ghibli character I’ve come to adore (with plenty of fascinating Japanese historical detail) and the story reminded me somewhat of classic Oscar winner The Last Emperor in Kaguya’s journey from free-spirited child to forced-on-her palace rituals.  It’s at times whimsical and full of comical and interesting characters (the four suitors especially) and offers up a gentle love story as well as a powerful coming of age for the title character.  It’s probably too long for what it is, and plods along at times, yet makes up for this in it’s sheer artistry and leads to an ending that I’m not afraid to admit, got me quite emotional.

I was slightly underwhelmed by The Wind Rises, but this was a gentle return to the magic and heart of Studio Ghibli.  Another gem from what was (if rumours of their closure are to be believed) one of the finest animation studios ever conceived.

Verdict:  4 /5