The Beginner’s Guide to Anime, No. 162 – Only Yesterday

Only Yesterday 1

A season of films by Studio Ghibli is being screened across the country in certain cinemas, known as “Studio Ghibli Forever”. Among the events that have been taken place is the screening of one of the studio’s greatest films, but with an English dub for the first time.

The film in question is the drama Only Yesterday, and the new dub features in the lead roles Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: Episode VII) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire). Originally released in 1991, directed by Isao Takahata, and based on a 1987 manga by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, this movie is notable for many other things: it is famous for the way it was animated; for the plot of the film; and is one of two Studio Ghibli films to have a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Beginning in 1982, the story concerns a woman named Taeko Okajima, who is in her mid-20s and works in an office in Tokyo. For her ten-day long holiday she decides to visit some of her family who live in the countryside, where she plans to help in the local safflower harvest, where the flowers are organically grown and mainly used for dying clothes. As she takes a sleeper train from Tokyo to Yamagata, she begins to recall her own countryside childhood experiences dating back to 1966. Taeko recalls her family, consisting of her parents, her grandmother, and her two older sisters; as well as her time at school, making friends with the other girls and later finding out that one boy in the school secretly likes her.

When she finally arrives at her stop, Taeko finds out that the person picking her up from the station is a man named Toshio, someone she hardly knows. As she gets to work at the harvest and enjoys her holiday, she tells Toshio more about her childhood – both the good times, and the bad times. We come across Taeko troubles at school, learning about periods which results in schoolboys causing mischief, crying as she is slapped across the face by her father when the she leaves the hours without wearing shoes, and her failed desire to move into acting. As the story cuts between Taeko’s childhood and adulthood, she begins to contemplate staying in the country, a proposition made more complicated when it is suggested that she should marry Toshio. She therefore has to decide whether to keep her old job, or marry and have a new life.

As stated in the central anime reference book, The Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clements and Helen McCarthy, some people might be put off by the ending premise. In Japan at the time, the idea of a woman might want to have both a career and a family life was not really considered. It was either one or the other. Despite this, this hasn’t stopped people from liking the film. Along with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (No. 153) it has a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is also famous for the way it was animated. The voice actors were recorded first, and thus the animators were able to animate the facial movements of the characters more accurately. It was one of the first anime films to use this technique.

But perhaps the most notable feature of Only Yesterday is the plot. When you think about of most anime, the plots are very flashy. Many of the plots deal with fantastical situations that would never happen in real life. Only Yesterday’s story is very much set in the real world. You can believe that the events that have happened over the course of Taeko’s life would happen to any woman, and why she would come to the decisions she has made. Only Yesterday is an adult film, aimed at women, but the film appeals to just about everyone.

Only Yesterday is not showy. It does not try to be spectacular. It tells a story that anyone can relate to, and that is what gives it its appeal.

Only Yesterday is available on DVD from Studio Canal. The new dub version will be released on Blu-Ray on 15th August.

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