Anime Film Review: Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday is a Studio Ghibli film that is based on a manga by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone. It was released to Japanese theaters on July 20, 1991. This film is one of the few Studio Ghibli productions that has not been released in North America. However, I was able to see this film after obtaining an import of the Blu-ray that was released in Hong Kong that includes English subtitles.

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Only Yesterday
Directed by: Isao Takahata
Written by: Isao Takahata
Starring: Miki Imai, Toshirō Yanagiba, and Yōko Honna
Run Time: 118 minutes
Rated: PG

The main character of Only Yesterday is an unmarried 27-year-old office lady named Taeko Okajima. She has lived her whole life in Tokyo and works at a company in the city. At the beginning of the film, she decides to take a trip into the country to help the family of her elder sister’s husband with the safflower harvest.

While traveling on the train to Yamagata, Taeko begins recalling memories of when she was a 10-year-old schoolgirl in 1966. When she reaches her destination, she meets and is picked up by her brother-in-law’s second cousin, Toshio. The film shows Taeko learning about harvesting safflowers, getting to know the family she’s staying with, and the time she spends with Toshio. Taeko’s memories of her 10-year-old self are intertwined with what’s happening to Taeko in Yamagata, and Taeko finds herself questioning her feelings and what she wants in life.

The animation style is what I’ve come to expect from the Studio Ghibli productions that are directed by Isao Takahata. This style that’s associated with Takahata’s works are very effective for the story being told in Only Yesterday. There are times when you see Taeko’s 10-year-old self interacting with the older Taeko, but I don’t believe that this meant to be taken literally. To me, this is Takahata’s way of showing what is going on inside of Taeko’s mind.

Another standout element of the film for me is its ending, and getting to hear the song “The Rose” being sung in Japanese.

I really enjoyed Only Yesterday, and thought it was a very well done film. It probably helps that I’m in my later 30’s and can understand where Taeko is coming from. But after seeing this film, I can see why Disney opted not to dub and release it. With the feel of the film and some of the topics that are included in Taeko’s memories, it just wouldn’t fit with the other Studio Ghibli films that Disney has dubbed, released, and marketed to children. Children are definitely not the target market for a film like Only Yesterday.

When it comes to the Blu-ray that I watched, the only bonus feature included on the disc was storyboards. However, I’m not going to complain about the extras, because I’m just grateful to be able to see and own the film in any way, shape, or form.

If you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli and/or of Isao Takahata, I would recommend finding a way to import a copy of Only Yesterday that has English subtitles. This is a film that should be in the anime library of viewers who like Studio Ghibli and Takahata, even though it may not easily available for North American fans.

Reviews of other Studio Ghibli films:

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