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Review by Benn Robbins
Produced by Hayao Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki
Written and Directed by Isao Takahata
Based on Omoide Poro Poro by Hotaru Okamoto, Yuko Tone
Starring Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Grey DeLisle, Matt Yang King,
Meda Marshall, Laura Bailey, Ashley Eckstein, Hope Levy

I had never even heard of Only Yesterday, the 1991 Studio Ghibli film by writer director Isao Takahata or the manga by creators Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone it was based on.

I only saw it this evening and it was wonderful. It may not have been specifically made by Miyazaki but the caliber of the film stands proudly next to and among the great masters film oeuvre.

Closer to the realism of Miyazaki recent film The Wind Rises though produced around the time of Kiki’s Delivery Service, Only Yesterday was a very progressive Japanese anime for it’s time in that it utilized a more realistic animated style than the more stylized one that Hayao Miyazaki was using in 1991.

In fact, it used the American tradition of recording the voices first and animating to the recordings instead of animating the mouth movements first then fitting the dialog to the lips movement.

Set in 1982, the film follows the daily life of 27 year old, Taeko Okajima as she plans a trip to the country to work on a farm harvesting safflower flowers. Intercut throughout are flashbacks to her 10-year old self in 5th grade in 1966 as she recalls that formative time in her life and how it shaped who she is as a woman.  She both lovingly remembers and struggles with certain memories and if she is happy and living the life she wanted. She is first met by Toshio at the train station and thought the film he is there to listen and help her realize what it is she wants from life and whether or not she would rather live in the country or in Tokyo, where her work and former life was.

This movie is a gem.

I fell in love with it from the opening frame to the final credit. As always with any Ghibli film, the water color backgrounds are worth watching for the entire 118 minutes of the film but the characters and the animation were nothing less than you would expect from Studio Ghibli, perfection.  Producers Miyazaki, Toshio Suzuki and director Takahata have created a beautiful, poignant and simple film that draws you in in its normalcy and awes you with its simplicity.

It is amazing that it took quarter of a century for this film to make it to America. As the highest grossing domestic Japanese film of 1991, taking in an amazing ¥1.87 billion, and an amazing 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes this adult anime is totally worth a watch.

I am not going to lie.

When I heard Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) was the English voice of lead character Taeko I was already on board. She did not disappoint. She was lovely and soothing as Taeko.  I felt every emotion and heartache as she narrates the film and voices Taeko’s as an adult. Fellow British actor Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire) was wonderful as the would be love interest and friend Toshio. The rest of the English cast were fantastic as well. You would expect that from a Disney Ghibli release.

However this film will not be released in America by the Walt Disney Company.

Up to now, this film was the only Studio Ghibli theatrical film not released in the US or Canada. Though a subtitled version had appeared on cable in the early 2000’s there had been no home movie release of the film. This theatrical release and subsequent home video release with be through the New York Distribution company GKIDS.

GKIDS acquired the rights when Disney balked at releasing it because of numerous mentions of menstruation and very innocent public nudity in which children and adults are naked in a public bath. Nothing explicit is ever shown and it is, of course, very tasteful but it was a little much for the House of the Mouse.

As there is a very strict clause that prohibits Disney from altering any Ghibli film in any way, they sold the rights to the film and thus GKIDS will be releasing the theatrical and home video versions. This is grand news because they did a terrific job at it as you would expect from the company that released the Oscar nominated Secret of the Kells, A Cat in Paris, and Song of the Sea.

If you have a chance please go see this film. See why ALL of Studio Ghibli is worth a watch, not just the Miyazaki films. There is a reason he produces these films. He believes in them and makes sure they are exquisite to the eyes and ears and leave you feeling always better then when you started.

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