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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character is in the fifth grade, there are several references to menstruation, some of which would now be considered outdated (a school nurse encourages female students to purchase special underpants, girls are excused from P.E. because of their periods, etc.)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.
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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?
- In theaters: July 20, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2016
- Cast: Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel, Alison Fernandez
- Director: Isao Takahata
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Curiosity, Perseverance
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, some rude behavior and smoking
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