Made back in 1991…and finally available here in the States!
by Martin Hafer
Back in 1996, the Disney Corporation bought the rights to distribute the films of Japan’s Studio Ghibli. This is one of the big reasons that Ghibli films have now become widely available and loved in the West. However, in the case of the film Only Yesterday, Disney had a bit of a conundrum. According to imdb.com, Disney didn’t want to distribute this film because of its references to menstruation…and Ghibli was unwilling to have their films altered in any way (apart from translating them into English and other languages). While this reason seems a bit silly, since Only Yesterday is not a film even intended for kids, I also wonder if perhaps there was another reason the film wasn’t available until now. It just doesn’t play like a typical animated film and probably isn’t an easy sell except for those who really, really love anime. I am not saying it’s a bad film but it probably has a smaller audience than Ghibli crowd pleasers such as Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro or Howl’s Moving Castle. Thanks to GKIDS, who has now obtained rights to release this film, you can find it on DVD…and it’s available through Netflix starting this month.
While many folks seem to assume that Hayao Miyazaki made every film for Studio Ghibli, he actually has not. In this case, he’s one of the producers and Isao Takahata actually directed this project. The film is based on a manga (a print version) and plays in many ways like one of my favorite animes based on a serialized manga…Azumanga Daioh. Like this other anime, the story is very episodic and does not play like a typical film. Instead of a typical story, this film is just a collection of snippets–recollections of a 27 year old woman as she thinks back to her life when she was 11, back in 1966. This style clearly will leave many confused and probably disappointed…though anime lovers probably will be more forgiving for its meandering plot. And, meander it clearly does…covering such oddly diverse subjects such as her poor grades in math, the importance of conformity, a dirty and poor student she couldn’t forget as well as learning about menstruation in sex education class. If you had to find a theme for all this, it would probably be about what it’s like to be different and to be living in a society that strongly values and enforces conformity. A real crowd-pleasing plot, probably not. However, it is a quality production throughout, with excellent animation as well as a very enjoyable English language cast, though for you purists out there, the DVD also includes the original Japanese language track as well.