Okajima Taeko, a 27-year-old career woman, has never really felt that she fit in with everyone else. All her life, she's felt that something was missing, although she could never really figure out just what it was. Tired and bored with her current lifestyle, Taeko decides to take a ten-day vacation to her sister's husband's relatives' farm to help out with the safflower harvest. Recollections of events during her 5th grade year begin to resurface in Taeko's memory as she makes her trip and also while she helps with the harvest. As she remembers more and more, Taeko begins to come to a realization of what she has become as a result of some philosophies she first adopted in fifth grade -- and eventually is faced with an important decision concerning what she can do to change.
Studio Ghibli movies have always treated young female protagonists with depth and humanity. 'Only Yesterday' was originally released in 1991 in Japan, and was only recently released in North America. It's nice to see that the tradition of remarkable female heroines has always been on their radar.
'Only Yesterday' is slower paced than many other Ghibli films, which is saying quite a bit since many of these films eschew commonplace story structure in favor of sweeping, thoughtful epics. It's a story that actually has a lot in common with the most recent Ghibli film, 'When Marnie Was There.'
The film simultaneously covers two separate timelines about the same woman, Taeko (voiced by Daisy Ridely). Taeko takes time out from her busy city life to visit the countryside. This causes her to reminisce about her childhood.
Her flashbacks are fluid and mesmerizing. Not so much because they're exciting, but because they mirror the complexities of childhood. It's so easy to think of growing up as a simpler time, but Taeko's memories are anything but simple. She's a young girl, but she has a variety of issues she's dealing with: boys, puberty, young romance, difficulty with school, troubles at home, a strict father, a worrying mother, and indifferent sisters.
The older Taeko finds herself befriending Toshio (voiced by Dev Patel). She uses her past memories as an influence on how to act with Toshio. Her recollections help the two of them build a bond.
'Only Yesterday' plays out much more like a coming-of-age drama, than it does a typical animated movie. It's deliberate and doesn't rush. While many Ghibli movies tend toward the fantastical, this one stays grounded in real life. It's the story of a woman, coming to grips with her past in order to deal with her future.
As with Ghibli's earlier films 'Only Yesterday' sports a deceptively complex animation style. It appears simple, but it's able to convey so much with so little (especially when compared to today's computer-generated animated features).
'Only Yesterday' reminds us that childhood consists of myriad of memories. While we've all moved on with our lives, it's important to remember where we've come from. Taeko's reminiscences help her understand more about herself. Upon reflection, she's able to gain a better understanding of who she is. Something that we could all use at least a little of.
Studio Ghibli has been putting out quality animated features, meant for adults and children, for a long time now. 'Only Yesterday' is one of the few that seems to target adult women specifically. Although, it should be enjoyed by just about everyone. It's another effortlessly beautiful tale from the house that Miyazaki built.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is a two-disc set from Universal and Gkids, a 50GB Blu-ray and a DVD. It's Region A locked. It comes in a standard keepcase with a slipcover provided.
The 1080p presentation looks tremendous for a movie that was originally released in 1991. The transfer is stunningly filmic in appearance, but doesn't appear to harbor any wear and tear that you might expect to find when restoring older films.
Color fills are vibrant. Flickering is seen on rare occasions, but for the most part the fills are unwavering in their appearance. Lines are strong and definite. There's a nice cinematic texture to the whole image that looks like was lovingly retained during the transfer. There's no untoward evidence of extensive scrubbing of the image. It appears naturally clean and free of specks, hairs, or other visual blights that might affect a film over 20 years old.
Black areas are sufficiently dark. Primary colors are bold and pop off the screen. White areas are never too hot. Fade ins and outs never appear to have any noticeable banding. This is a great looking presentation all around.
'Only Yesterday' is given a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix for the Japanese track and a DTS 2.0 mix for the English track. This closely mirrors what has happened with other Ghibli releases. 'My Neighbor Totoro' also contained 2.0 mixes. While it would be nice to have full surround sound remixes on these titles, the stereo mix does a good job considering.
I'm one who usually opts for the Japanese mix. Here the original track for the film is strong. Dialogue is clear. This was also the case with the English version. I sampled both tracks and they both sound quite clear. The English version sounded a little quieter than the Japanese mix, but not by much.
There are some nice transitional sound effects that showcase the stereo aspect, like a car zooming from one edge of the screen to the other. There's not much in the way of real immersive sound here though.
Feature-Length Storyboards (HD, 119 min.) – The entire movie presented in storyboard form.
Making Of (SD, 46 min.) – This is an extensive look at the making of 'Only Yesterday' that is both informative and compelling. While it talks a lot about the making of the film, it also feels like a documentary about Studio Ghibli and its inner workings. Very good stuff here, especially if you're a fan.
Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast (HD, 7 min.) – Interviews with the English dub cast like Ridley and Patel talking about their roles in the movie.
Interview with the English Dub Team (HD, 16 min.) – This is an interesting look at what it took to dub the film and why they once though it was “undubable.” It also talks about why it took so long to finally bring the film to North American audiences.
Foreign Trailers and TV Spots (HD, 7 min.) – Several pieces of Japanese marketing for 'Only Yesterday' are included here.
Trailer (HD, 2 min.) – The theatrical trailer is included.
'Only Yesterday' is a life-affirming film that some may find slow, even when compared to other Ghibli works. It is, however, a fantastically animated film about childhood, growing up, and how our younger years affect our older ones. Video and audio are solid. Special features are really strong. This release is recommended.