Isao Takahata only provides a few shots of modern Tokyo in his 1991 animated film Only Yesterday, now being re-released in a restored version by GKIDS. Before 27-year-old Taeko leaves her job for a prolonged vacation in the countryside, the camera scales up a large office building, its windows reflecting even more urban structures beyond. It's a staggering image of congestion that's quickly left behind.
Takahata's heart lies elsewhere, as does his heroine's. The master animator and longtime Studio Ghibli stalwart spins Only Yesterday into a fluid memory dump for his lead character, an independent woman who often takes trips to different corners of Japan looking to experience the reward of physical labor. This latest trek takes her to a distant relative's farm for the safflower harvest where she meets an appealing young man named Toshio.
All the while Taeko experiences flashbacks to 1966 when she was in fifth grade. While noting that it was a culturally pivotal year for her two Beatles-obsessed sisters, she's somewhat perplexed by why it was such a transitional moment for her former self.
The vignettes come as quickly as they disappear. Eating pineapple for the first time, talking to a handsome young baseball player, struggling with fractions: They are all recollections surmounting to something, but Taeko is often unsure of the grand revelation to come.
The film's genius lies in its refusal to answer these questions. As he did with Grave of the Fireflies (a stone-cold masterpiece), Takahata infuses the smallest of moments with a sense of sublime longing. The true joys of life are never far from one's grasp, but one must be present to truly appreciate them.
Only Yesterday opens in Friday, Feb. 26, at the Ken Cinema, which will be screening in its original Japanese language with English subtitles and an English dubbed version. I implore you to seek out the former.
A War: A Danish military commander in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province attempts to lead by example after mounting losses, while his wife tries to keep their family afloat back at home.
Eddie the Eagle: This sports dramedy tells the story of the British sky jumper who became the first to represent the U.K. in the sport at the 1988 Olympics.
Gods of Egypt: This fantasy/action film by Alex Proyas envisions a battle between good and evil forces in ancient Egypt.
Only Yesterday: Taeko decides to leave her cushy office job for a work vacation in the countryside, a decision that conjures up memories from her childhood. Screening through Thursday, March 3, at the Ken Cinema in its original Japanese language with English subtitles version and newly dubbed cut in English.
Rolling Papers: Journalists for The Denver Post decide to write a series of articles on marijuana once the drug becomes legal in Colorado. Screens through Thursday, March 3, at the Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Triple 9: A corrupt ring of cops decides to murder a new recruit in order to create a distraction so they can conduct a daring robbery. Starring Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Aaron Paul.
One Time Only
The Princess Bride: This referential take on the classic fairytale follows a dashing young warrior who must save his beloved princess from an evil king and Andre the Giant. Screens at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Arclight Cinemas La Jolla.
Love Actually: Take your honey to see the ultimate Valentine’s Day movie. Or just tell them how much you love them yourself. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
Fargo: In Joel and Ethan Coen’s frozen masterpiece, a pregnant police officer (Frances McDormand) investigates a kidnapping case that leads her down some darkly comic roads. Screening at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 25, and 11 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27, at the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.
Spotlight: An investigative journalist team from The Boston Globe uncovers an elaborate pattern of corruption and deceit while researching a story on abuse cases involving Catholic priests. Screens at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 26 and 27, at Cinema Under the Stars in Mission Hills.
Tommy Boy: “Fat guy in a little coat.” Damn, I miss Chris Farley. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 2, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.