4YE’s Big Movie Binge: Only Yesterday (1991)

Credit: Studio Ghibli

Studio Ghibli is in a class all its own. Of course, any cinephile knows this. Or, rather, any animation guru knows this. Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki took the failing Japanese anime and transformed it into a burgeoning, cross-cultural phenomenon. While it’s hard to put into words all of the implications and all the ways Takahata and Miyazaki changed entertainment for the better, it’s easy to point out that every single one of their films revolves around the coming of age trope and are all beautifully animated. Such is the case of Only Yesterday.

Only Yesterday was released in 1991 and tells the story of twenty-seven-year-old Taeko. Taeko has a great job in the city but takes vacations in the country because she longs for the simplicity it brings her. During one such vacation to a farm to pick safflower, which was used to make rouge. She remembers her time in the fifth grade and all the changes she experienced then that brought her to this point in her life. She remembers all the lessons she had to learn while also meeting the handsome Toshio who she eventually grows fond of.

Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel voice Taeko and Toshio in the dub. Their voices certainly fit the characters. It did throw me off that Ridley didn’t use her English accent but Patel did. That was a strange choice when they were doing the dub, but it is such a minor thing that it doesn’t affect the overall movie at all.

Really, the only problem I had with this film was the fact that Takahata, who wrote and directed the film, decided to spend so much time on young Taeko. As a whole, Taeko isn’t very interesting when she’s a child. She’s far more interesting as an adult. She’s far wiser beyond her years and it shows in the way she’s portrayed as an adult. She’s also still stuck in the past and that isn’t explained to the audience. If it was, then it wasn’t explained very well.

Despite those two very minor issues, Only Yesterday is a sold Ghibli film. It deals with adult problems and how puberty is the most influential time in your life. This subject matter is probably why it took so long to receive an English dub for the film, as it didn’t fit Disney’s brand and thus Disney didn’t want to release it with the other Ghibli films the company dubbed, but that’s neither here nor there. What matters is that Only Yesterday is beautiful. It may not be entirely well written but it’s full of humor and great lessons for young women. The story is timeless which, I think, is Studio Ghibli’s ultimate goal when making films and they succeeded well here. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that, like every Ghibli animation, the film is absolutely stunning and well crafted.

Only Yesterday is an important addition to the Studio Ghibli repertoire and it shouldn’t be ignored. I’m glad I watched it and I do recommend it to anyone whether you’re in the fifth grade or graduated or even well into adulthood. The story and the animation are worth it.

Shelby Arnold
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Shelby Arnold

Shelby is currently reviewer extraordinaire for 4YE. She is also currently the co-editor of Arkansas Tech University's paper The Arka Tech. She runs her own movie review blog called Shellin' Out Reviews where she crossposts many of her reviews. She previously was a staff writer at PopWrapped.

Shelby started writing at the age of 13 and has been hooked ever since. She's currently going to school at ATU for Creative Writing and English with a minor in Film Studies. She hopes to one day be a professor of film, a film critic, and a screenwriter. (Can you tell she likes the movies?)

She hopes to walk the red carpet one day. She contributes a long list of friends, co-workers, professors, and writers as the inspiration for her dreams and goals.

You can find Shelby on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.
Shelby Arnold
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