Film Review: “Only Yesterday” – Old made new!…In English to boot!

Review By: Ifakoya English
Opens at the Angelika Theater, March 11th

There is little magic that compares with that of nostalgia, and few things as precious as memories.

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

ONLY YESTERDAY delivered to the world in 1991 by the legendary Studio Ghibli  (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) is a charming masterpiece. Directed by Isao Takahata (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) and mainly produced by Hayao Miyazaki (Princess Mononoke) this quaint little film, while released some time ago, has now been given the opportunity to shine again…this time with glorious Studio Ghibli brand English dubbing, and that is always welcome.

The film, set in Japan in 1982 focuses on the journey of Taeko voiced by Daisy Ridley (Star Was: The Force Awakens) as she sets out towards the country side for a nice summer vacation. Single and having lived her whole life in Tokyo she finds relaxation in the country side seemingly content with life as it is. Most of the film focuses on two sides of our lovely protagonist, the adult Taeko as she makes her way by train to her destination, and young Taeko who is voiced by Allison Fernandez. Taeko’s story is told mostly through inner monologue and flashback, allowing us a deep look into her mind from the curious and rambunctious little child, to the well rounded adult. Through these flashbacks, we learn just what sort of life our hopeful farmer has led in the past, why she is the way she is and what is important to her.

These flashbacks allow us to endear ourselves to both the young Taeko and the adult version, making it far simpler to sympathize and connect with her. It allows us to draw connections, to understand just how much we may or may not have in common with this character and create a situation where we actually understand her and her situations. From the friendships formed, the new feelings to be explored, first crushes and the little annoyances we deal with in our family we see it all. It connects watchers to the characters, drawing them in and keeping their hearts open as they feel along with our protagonist. These nostalgic feelings, mixed with Studio Ghibli’s trademark innocence create a truly heart-warming experience. Even though not everyone was once a prepubescent Japanese girl, a single woman living in Tokyo who really likes the country side most people will be able to connect in some way to the characters, and project themselves into it, while not detracting from the characters.

Even as the train ride ends, and Taeko meets up with a young farmer by the name of Toshio voiced by Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire’s) the memories and experiences never stop coming. Each moment, perfectly broken up between the past and the present(ish) provides us with only more understanding of the characters and their ways. While no one but our main character receives a flashback, each character is connected in some way, by experience or by simple feeling. The flashbacks are inserted to give context, which even while detailing the life of Taeko, give us a bit of a backstory into the other characters.

Each character has their place, and while maybe not playing as much of a role, they never feel like they don’t belong, as if they are extra. They serve to complement the world we have been given in the film, not taking us out of it, nor do they force us to try and understand them rather than focus on our main characters.

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

As typical of the studios work, the art work is superb, the animation is dazzling,and whether or not it happens to be your favorite, there is no denying that the artist manages to convey perfectly the beauty and peace found within the story. Each landscape is beauty drawn, akin to a painting, while each character is given the ability to express with or without words, what they are thinking.

It was always impressive when an artist draws with enough detail to give the audience the capability to read emotion from a character comes not just from voice, but from the face a method that is quite often lacking in many animations. Memories are often drawn clear, with a slight haze around the borders to make it clear that it is but a simple memory, but never to a distracting degree, while the more modern and current events are solid. No beauty is lost between flashback and real-time however, each scene handled with care and love. It is an expressive and cutesy art style one expects of the studio, and they continue to deliver.
The film could be almost silent, and almost no emotion would be lost.

The score is subtle in delivery, only taking over a scene when necessary. There are moments of silence when it is prudent, but never in inappropriate places. The score never feels out of place or over the top fitting correctly into each scene only serving to complete them. With a good mixture of music from the ages, it is always a treat to listen for what one might be hearing in the background, or experience the mood they help set.

Now regardless of one’s feelings towards dubbing, there is no denying the dubbing was treated with care. While by no means perfect, it tends not to suffer from the issues many other studios do with voices that are completely out of place, or terribly added in. The dubbing here does its best to match the lip movements of the original Japanese, and each actor provides their best performance. It a charming type of dub, one that allows you to feel comfortable with it, rather than shake your head at the studios choices. No over performing, and no real under-performing outside of character, the emotion seems genuine. The cast is utilized in full and no one slacks behind. It’s a nice listen considering the dub was long overdue for anyone looking forward to hearing them, and for those who are always fans of the studio’s work with dubbing, there is little disappointment to be found here.

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

© 1991 Hotaru Okamoto – Yuko Tone – GNH

Now, this film is not for everyone of course as it is essentially a film all about the wonderful power of memories, and how they shape people. Those who are fans of Studio Ghibli’s more adventure filled works and not quite into character stories are probably not going to enjoy the film to the level others might. While it does in no way mean it’s a simple pass, it can come across as rather slow to anyone needing faster pacing, and more fantastical things in their films. The film is a character story, meant to warm the heart, and that is what it does well. It is essentially a series of flashbacks which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

The story is set in the real world, and covers issues that might be common to everyone. Much of the story is carried through the words, and while there is nothing wrong with that, for people who crave excitement and action in their stories this will not satisfy that.

As I mentioned earlier, not every feeling can be perfectly replicated or understood by every member of the audience, though the film has pieces for everyone. The story is of a young woman, and so certain things that pop up may be a little more difficult to understand such as when the film brings up certain…bodily developments, and romantic feelings. It isn’t isolating in the least, but there might be gaps in which nothing can be felt, small disconnects that quickly pass one by.

The story at its core is about the feelings one gets when they remember, how they can shape you, and of course, how one might call upon them to progress in life. It’s a relaxing, charming, and endearing story about a woman’s journey through life and all the things she has learned, and will learn. It’s a great story, greatly paced, superbly acted, and beautifully drawn and animated. It’s a must watch or re-watch for any fan of Studio Ghibli, or animated films in general a true classic indeed.

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