Japanese anime master Isao Takahata never had the breakout Stateside commercial success of Hayao Miyazaki, his partner at Studio Ghibli. And you can probably see why in this gentle charmer. Extravagantly lovely, especially in densely colored scenes of countryside farm life, the story moves in parallel planes as 27 yr-old Taeko takes time off from her Tokyo office job to spend her vacation doing farm work with relatives. No Club Med for this city girl, she likes getting her hands dirty. While there, she finds herself falling for a young organic farm visionary, but doesn’t seem to realize it, largely because she’s being trailed by that parallel storyline, her 10-yr-old/fifth grade self, as she tries to figure out how family & social issues that went unresolved back then are still driving her decisions. It’s an immensely charming idea, witty and bathed in visual rapture, richly hued in the ‘now,’ carefully rinsed watercolor for the ‘past.’ And while some of the Japanese cultural reticence and stultifying politeness can fend off emotional involvement, the bigger problem is structural. Takahata, who added on the adult story to the manga picturebook the film came from, doesn’t take proper advantage of the possibilities for integrating the two time frames until the very end. Literally, only as the end credits run does he finally figure out what he should have been trying to do all thru the pic. Instead, the flip-flop lines of action distance us from both stories just when we need to be drawn in. Still, it’s all sweet natured and sweetly told; and that final end credit sequence is blissfully cathartic. Maybe the film would come together better with a second viewing?
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Family Friendly note: Some of the schoolyard taunts & putdowns are generated by frank Sex-Ed talk and the divide between ‘tweens’ who are already menstruating and those who aren’t. Very accurate stuff, too.