Only Yesterday

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Only Yesterday Movie Poster Image
Classic Studio Ghibli drama focuses on Japanese girlhood.
  • PG
  • 1991
  • 119 minutes

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 1 review

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

You don't need to be married by a certain age to be happy, and a woman's sole role in society isn't to get married and to have babies by a certain age. Taeko's joy at helping at the farm is a lovely contrast with how sad her own mother seems doing all the household chores at Taeko's father's command. Demonstrates that what happens to you as a child influences you and can inform your decisions as an adult.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Taeko is bright, curious, and talented. She's a good, kind friend and daughter, and she acknowledges when she's made a mistake. She works hard, perseveres, and spends her vacation helping others. Toshio is sweet, hardworking, and encouraging. He likes Taeko, but he doesn't push her to stay with him in their village. Taeko's sisters are smart and resourceful, even if they treat her like a typical pesky little sister.

Violence

Taeko's dad slaps her hard across the face. 

Sex

Boys try to look up girls' skirts to see if they have special "period" underwear; girls call boys "pervs" for doing so. Fifth graders tease one another about liking particular boys or girls. Crushes, romance.

Language

Boys tease girls about being on their periods, buying special underwear, and skipping P.E. because they may (or may not) have their periods. They yell "period girls!" to girls. Also use of insults like "slow-poke," "smelly," "goody-two-shoes," "pest," etc.

Consumerism

One reference to Puma sneakers.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adult men smoke cigarettes in several scenes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Only Yesterday was originally released in 1991 and is being re-released in 2016 with a new English voice cast that includes Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel. The movie chronicles a single 27-year-old woman's nostalgia-filled vacation to the Japanese countryside. Since the movie takes place in 1966 and 1982, adult characters smoke cigarettes in several scenes. And in the flashback scenes that take place when the main character is in the fifth grade, there are several references to menstruation, some of which would now be considered outdated (a school nurse encourages female students to purchase special underpants, girls are excused from P.E. because of their periods, etc.) or inappropriate (boys go around making fun of girls because of their periods and try to sneak peeks at their special underwear to see if they're on their periods). There's also some teasing about crushes in the flashbacks and mild romance in the main plot line. In one surprising scene, young Taeko's father slaps her hard across the face for what, to many viewers, will seem like a confusingly minor offense but must be a more problematic act in Japanese culture.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 14 years old Written byanimekitkat May 20, 2016

Awesome movie for all ages!

I went to go see this with my friends and we thought it was really cute and funny! We both love Studio Ghibli movies. I think that it's a great coming of a... Continue reading

What's the story?

ONLY YESTERDAY is the re-release of Studio Ghibli's groundbreaking fifth feature film, which was originally released in 1991. Now available with an English voice cast and screenplay, it follows the story of Taeko (voiced by Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Daisy Ridley), a single working woman in 1982 Tokyo. She's taking a 10-day vacation to the Japanese countryside to help her sister's husband's family with their safflower harvest. On the train ride there, she reflects on fifth grade, when she (Alison Fernandez) first felt a strong desire to leave Tokyo for a vacation somewhere new. As 1982-Taeko arrives at her brother-in-law's village, she meets his cousin Toshio (Dev Patel), a handsome organic farmer who's intrigued by her interest in country living. Through extended flashbacks, Taeko reminisces and ruminates on how her childhood hopes and disappointments have impacted her adult self.

Is it any good?

There might not be a better promoter of girl empowerment than Japan's Studio Ghibli, and this classic 1991 film is a lovely tribute to how girlhood dreams and disappointments impact a woman's life. Taeko's flashbacks are in many ways more exciting than her present life, which consists of going to her brother-in-law's family farm and helping with the safflower harvest. Her fifth-grade self experiences the tumult and humiliation of early puberty: crushes, friendship, and school issues; struggles with math; sibling rivalry; and out-sized daily dramas. She practices for hours to say one line ("villager number one") in her school play, and she's crushed when her father icily forbids her to accept a role she's subsequently offered in a university production. 

The animation is lovely and realistic, unlike the fantasy offerings Studio Ghibli is best known for. Tiny details like the cross-hatches and colors that appear on faces when they're ashamed or blushing are brilliantly evocative. Too much nostalgia can be tiresome in a story, but in Only Yesterday, the reflection is a perfect vehicle to propel Taeko onward to her future. As an adult, Taeko seems happy but is quietly still dealing with the hurts of her past. But in the countryside, she shines. The movie sensitively explores how difficult it was for a single Japanese woman to find her own way in the early '80s (and early '90s), but it's also about how love and happiness can bloom in the most unexpected ways.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about whether Studio Ghibli movies like Only Yesterday are more accessible when dubbed in English or if they're better in their native Japanese with English subtitles. Which do you prefer, and why?

  • How are the roles of girls and women depicted in Only Yesterday? Do they change over the course of Taeko's life? How about between 1966 and now? 

  • Why do you think the face of Taeko's father is hidden so often? Would you expect a father to have the ultimate say-so in a movie made about a family today?

  • What do you think about the way early adolescence is portrayed in the story? Do boys still tease girls about their bodies and periods? Do girls make fun of boys for being dirty, smelly, and "pervs"? What are some more current issues related to gender and body image that kids face?

  • How do the characters in Only Yesterday demonstrate curiosity and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love animation

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate