CHECK : Just Yesterday (1991)
Isao Takahata’s second film for Studio Ghibli was released yesterday. Hayao Miyazaki was inspired by the manga of the same name, which describes the daily life of a little girl named Taeko. However, he didn’t think he could turn episodic, vignette-style comics into feature films. Takahata had this idea in mind when he directed My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. He eventually pitched the idea to co-founder Takahata of Studio Ghibli, who solved the narrative problem by coming up with a frame story to give context to seemingly unrelated scenes. Just Yesterday was the most popular domestic film in Japan in 1991, but it won’t be released in America for another 25 years. The film is about menstruation and other teenage experiences, and US distributor Ghibli Disney was not happy about it. According to the contract, Disney was not allowed to change the Studio Ghibli film. Instead of just publishing yesterday, as should have been seen, they delayed and ignored it. GCIDS, a frequent distributor of foreign and independent animated films, acquired the rights to Disney’s Ghibli library in 2011. They released a special English oak tree yesterday in 2016 to mark the 25th anniversary, finally completing the Ghibli canon for American fans and collectors. I never saw this movie before this review, so I have no nostalgia or attachment to the characters. We jump.
Just yesterday, a woman named Taeko arrived in the country for the holidays. When she falls in love with a farmer named Toshio, she reflects on her childhood memories and what they mean for her life now. Her seemingly perfect life and her job at a big, successful company in Tokyo may not be what Taeko really wants after all.
The animation in Just Yesterday is truly remarkable. It was Studio Ghibli’s most unique film to date and was praised for the realism of the characters’ facial expressions and muscle movements. Yesterday he was equally masterful in his description of the idyllic and lush landscapes of Taeko’s native Tokyo. There are also subtle differences in the animation style of Taeko’s childhood and her modern life. Some of these elements were intentional, such as the rather cartoonish features of the young Taeko. Still, there was some contrast by recording the dialogue as an adult before it was animated. On the other hand, the flashback sequences were animated and recorded. The animators based some of the character designs and movements on acting for modern scenes. The memories look rather cartoonish. Yesterday is also full of color and life. The score was written by Katsu Hoshi, his first and only in the history of Ghibli films, and one of his last films overall. I find it interesting that so many of Miyazaki’s films were set to music by the phenomenal Joe Hisaishi, and none of Takahata’s films. Hoshi’s score isn’t bad, but it’s not particularly memorable or special either.
The whole story of Just Yesterday is pretty simple and depends on the viewer’s connection to Taeko and her experiences. Some (but not most) of Taeko’s thoughts on love, life and childhood are close to my heart. But I was sometimes bored and frustrated by others. Daisy Ridley isn’t as bad as the adult Taeko, but her accent is irritating. Since these characters are Japanese and dubbed into English, I really don’t know why they didn’t keep their British accent. Ridley making fun of the American accent seems unnecessary. Allison Fernandez can be just as annoying as Taeko from season 5. Great, but kids this age are usually very boring, so I guess it’s good. Yesterday there was nothing interesting about menstruation, teen relationships or anything else. Most of the sympathy I felt for Taeko during the flashbacks had to do with her horrible family, not her position, personality, or school experience. They try to compensate by showing what a little boy Taeko can be, but I don’t buy it. In my opinion, problem children are usually like this because of their family life. Taeko’s mother is cruel and constantly compares her to her older sisters. She is rude to her when she gets bad grades instead of helping her. I think it should seem appropriate for younger siblings, but I think it borders on insulting. There is also a scene in the movie where Taeko’s father slaps her and she starts crying and getting angry. The focus seems to be on the tantrum, not on the fact that Dad would hit someone less than half his size.
Taeko’s sisters aren’t very nice to her either, especially Yaeko who ridicules her grades and is generally condescending to her. This movie gave me a similar feeling to Home Alone, where a somewhat annoying child is terrorized by adults and teenagers who should know better. The biggest difference is that I didn’t really like Taeko as a character in the flashbacks. Taeko’s mother plays the role of Grey Delisle-Griffin, who has done voices for many movies and TV series. My favorite performance is the role of Princess Azula in Avatar : The Last Airbender. She does very well here as a mother, even if that limits her role per se. Dev Patel is adorable as Toshio, a character I would have liked to see more of in the film. Yaeko is played by Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano. She does well, even if her character is obnoxious. The grandmother is played by Nick Futterman, who played Asai Ventress in The Clone Wars. Naoko is a young girl who meets Taeko while on vacation and working in the countryside. Her voice is played by Tara Strong, the voice of too many famous cartoon characters to count.
My biggest problem with Only Yesterday is that I like half of it, namely the scenes in the present with Naoko and Toshio. I love the idea that Taeko’s life seems perfect on the surface, but she goes to the country to work on a farm for fun. During this experience, she begins a relationship and perhaps a new way of life. I’m surprised that a manga I was excited about just yesterday is about Taeko’s childhood, because I find those segments of the movie both boring and annoying. I guess it makes sense: the snippets of the film Takahata created were more fun to watch than what already existed. Also, I like the pictures of the farm better than the ones of Taeko’s house and schools. I like the concept of contrasting one’s adult life with one’s youth and desires. But the characters in Taeko’s family are just boring, and the teenagers she meets are as boring as water in a dishwasher.
I’m just thinking about yesterday. It’s absolutely stunning visually, especially in the contemporary scenes. I love the main story too, and much more than the flashback to Taeko’s childhood. The performances and music are generally good, and I have mixed feelings about the plot. Only Yesterday is not one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, but it’s not at the bottom of my list either.
Location – 5
Action – 7
Music/Sound – 6
Management/publishing – 5
Animation – 10
I’m just thinking about yesterday. It’s absolutely stunning visually, especially in the contemporary scenes. The performances and music are generally good, and I have mixed feelings about the plot.