Slow Burn To A Big Payoff

That title is kind of a bait and switch. I saw Only Yestersday the other day. It was a slow movie, that seemed to drag, but then when the ending came, my eyes started getting teary (my friend, who joined me, admitted that he also got watery-eyed). Bouncing between a young woman named Taeko taking a working vacation in rural Japan (she goes to her sister’s husband’s family to help pick and process some crops) where she engages in a chaste courtship with a youthful organic farmer and the memories of her fifth grade self.

There is a famous scene with a pineapple (google it, people), but also so much more. It’s episodic, but the episodes all illustrate the mystery of being young. A father’s actions seem random to her; one moment magnanimous and another, mysteriously cruel.

And it’s not initially clear how the contemporary and the memories relate and, even in the end, it’s not an easy connection (the audience doesn’t gasp, and say, oh, she’s fulfilling her youthful dream of being an actress, for example) nor a pat one. They are in oblique dialogue, rather direct correspondence.

Little effort is made to make the life of farming nor the life of an eleven year old interesting to the modern viewer. It’s not boring, per se, but artificial drama is avoided. So, as I said, it seemed to drag, but that was all part of a wonderful plan, it seemed, because, at the end, when the memories flood back in a positive way and she made her decision, it inspired those wonderful ‘happy cry’ feelings.

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