Only Yesterday, the new film from Studio Ghibli, has one of the oddest journeys to a US release I can think of. Directed by master animator Isao Takahata in 1991, it was never released in the US because it was deemed too mature by Disney, who was the studio’s distributor at the time. With the closing of Studio Ghibli last year, GKIDS discovered this gem and decided it was finally due its day in the sun. So, in 2016, 25 years after the film was made, we finally get to see Only Yesterday on the big screen.
So how does it hold up?
I’m delighted to tell you it holds up very well and, while not a personal favorite Studio Ghibli film, it is definitely worth seeking out if you can find it.
Only Yesterday tells the story of a 27-year-old woman named Taeko who is unmarried and going to the country to work on an organic farm for her vacation. She needs a break from big city life and the stresses of her job and family. While there, her mind starts to drift back to her childhood in 1966 when she was in the 5th grade. She even says she feels like her 5th grade self is following her around.
This begins the dual protagonists within the movie. One part of it is young Taeko, and the other is old Taeko. In my opinion, young Taeko is much more engaging of the two (and certainly cuter!).
Only Yesterday is extremely simple. We see the ordinary life of a little girl/woman play out. In a way, it kind of reminded me of Persepolis, which is about an Iranian girl growing up. I also thought about Richard Linklater’s live action Boyhood while watching. Some people will definitely find it boring, but I enjoy movies about everyday life.
We get to see young Taeko deal with a boy crushing on her, trying pineapple for the first time, be in a school play, dealing with her harsh father, etc. The “mature content” is when Taeko learns what getting her period will be like at school. Why this was a problem for Disney I’m not sure, but it is a cute scene nonetheless.
There are a few moments of whimsy where young Taeko imagines rainbows and flying. This was a nice reminder that we are still watching a Studio Ghibli film after all.
The adult Taeko I admittedly found less compelling. It can get a little preachy in these segments with the organic farming messages, and she’s just more of a bland character at 27 than in the 5th grade. Also, the romance between her and a man named Toshio felt very aloof and distant. Most of the time Toshio is the audience for her stories which makes him a bit of a bore.
There are a few moments that felt a little dated. Like the environmental message feels right out of 90s animation (think Once Upon a Forest, Fern Gully, etc). And synthesized music with songs like “The Rose” doesn’t hold up super well. However, GKIDS has done a great job with the English dubbing. Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel are believable as Taeko and Toshio, and the English blends into the animation seamlessly.
Speaking of the animation, it is the watercolor style Isao Takahata loves to use, and it really works well here. It suits the simple story and makes everything adorable.
Enjoying Only Yesterday depends on your penchant for deliberate pacing and a simple story. There were a few moments where even I got a little bored in the adult sections. However, for the most part I was charmed by the film. There are some critics calling it a masterpiece, and for me, that’s a little strong. But it’s certainly a sweet movie about a cute, little girl who faces the challenges of growing up in a realistic way. She has personality and spunk, and I think most of us will be able to relate to her life.
I definitely recommend seeing it on the big screen if you have the chance.
Edited by: Kelly Conley