By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Classic Studio Ghibli drama focuses on Japanese girlhood.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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 or have babies. Taeko's joy helping on the farm contrasts with how sad her own mother seems doing all the household chores at Taeko's father's command. Remembering childhood dreams reminds adults about the importance of curiosity and perseverance.
Positive Role Models
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.
The realistic drama affirms a young girl's dreams and a woman's independence. The story presents a nuanced portrayal of everyday life in Japan and thoughtfully explores aspects of Japanese culture. In the English dub, British Asian actor Dev Patel voices the character of Toshio.
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Violence & Scariness
Taeko's dad slaps her hard across the face.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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.
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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.
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Products & Purchases
One reference to Puma sneakers.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Adult men smoke cigarettes in several scenes.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Only Yesterday was originally released in 1991 and re-released in 2016 with an English voice cast that includes Daisy Ridley and Dev Patel. The movie chronicles a single 27-year-old woman named Taeko's (voiced by Miki Imai and Ridley) nostalgia-filled vacation to the Japanese countryside. Since the movie takes place in 1966 and 1982, adult characters smoke cigarettes in several scenes. In scenes that take place whenr 10-year-old Taeko (Yōko Honna/Alison Fernandez) 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 underwear, 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 the 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 (Masahiro Itō/Matthew Yang King) slaps her hard across the face for what many viewers would consider a confusingly minor offense, highlighting a generational and cultural rift. The film celebrates curiosity and perseverance.
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Based on 3 parent reviews
A stunner of a film!
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What's the Story?
ONLY YESTERDAY is Studio Ghibli's groundbreaking fifth feature film, which was originally released in 1991. It follows the story of Taeko (voiced by Miki Imai in the original version and Star Wars: The Force Awakens' Daisy Ridley in the English dub), 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, Taeko reflects on fifth grade, when she (Yōko Honna/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 (Toshirō Yanagiba/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 this classic 1991 film. Only Yesterday 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 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 (Masahiro Itō/Matthew Yang King) icily forbids her to accept a role she's subsequently offered in a university production.
The animation is lovely and realistic. 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 on to her future. As an adult, Taeko seems happy but is quietly still dealing with the hurts of her past. It's in the countryside that she shines. The movie sensitively explores how difficult it could be for a single Japanese woman in the early '80s (and early '90s) to find her own way -- an issue that will still resonate with many viewers today -- 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 more authentic 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, 1982, 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 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?
- In theaters: July 20, 1991
- On DVD or streaming: January 23, 2018
- 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
- Last updated: March 4, 2023
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