Only Yesterday AKA Omohide poro poro [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - United Kingdom - Studio Canal
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (4th September 2016).
The Film

“Only Yesterday”AKA 「おもひでぽろぽろ」 (1991)

Born, raised, and working in Tokyo, Taeko Okajima (voiced by Miki Imai) is a 27 year old who decides to take a 10 day leave from work for time in the countryside. The same as last year, she has made plans to stay in Yamagata Prefecture to work on a farm picking safflowers. Her 380km journey is one of self-reflection, and for some reason she cannot stop thinking about moments in her life when she was 10 years old back in 1966.

The 10 year old Taeko (voiced by Yoko Honna) was an average 5th grader growing up and living with her. Her father (voiced by Masahiro Ito) and mother (voiced by Michie Terada) were prime examples of the post-war “Showa Era” parents - the father was cold, silent, and strict putting work first and rarely showing emotion. The mother took care of the household and the parenting though with a slight distance in warmth. Her two teenage sisters Nanako (voiced by Yorie Yorishita) and Yaeko (voiced by Yuki Minowa) were a bit older and more in with the times - fashionable miniskirts, Beatlemania, and all the current trends. Grandma (voiced by Chie Kitagawa) is quiet but when she speaks, she speaks the honest truth.

During her travel, things that the 27 year old Taeko sees or feels brings back moments from her childhood. With the thought of vacation, she reminisces about taking a trip with her grandma to Atami and being overwhelmed by the grand hot springs. A fruit stand makes her remember the time she tried pineapple for the first time - an expensive commodity for an average family in the 1960s in Japan. Thinking about the arranged date that she turned down, she remembers about the boy in the other class that liked her and ensued awkwardness and blushing each time they were close. There are fun moments, cute moments, awkward moments, and even harsh traumatic moments that come back to her from time to time. The transfer student that sat next to her and tormented with his bullying attitude, or the first time her father slapped her - are hard moments that are devastating and traumatizing.

“Omohide Poro Poro” was originally a manga published by Weekly Myojo magazine written by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone, running from 1987 to 1988, focusing on the life of 5th grader Taeko Okajima in 1966 with each comic being a vignette without a continuing story. Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki was convinced that the property was great enough to be made into animation, and the studio was making a huge name for itself at the time. In 1989, the studio’s theatrical release of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” broke box office records becoming the fourth highest grossing film of the year with 3.65 billion yen, and the highest grossing Japanese film of the year. Impressive since their previous works never even cracked the top ten of the year. To tie in with the release of “Kiki”, their previous films “Laputa: Castle in the Sky” (1986), “My Neighbor Totoro” (1988) and “Grave of the Fireflies” (1988) were broadcast on television and also broke records - with each film having more than 20% total viewership in the timeslots. Studio Ghibli was a cultural phenomenon that started going far beyond the standard anime crowds and gaining mainstream fans. Miyazaki’s directorial films like “Laputa” and “Totoro” concentrated on fantasy and adventure while director Isao Takahata’s “Grave” was about humanity and realism. Miyazaki saw “Omohide Poro Poro” as an ideal project for Takahata but there was reservation on turning the product into a feature film - with the first being that the comic stories were extremely short and difficult to make into a narrative story.

Rather than following the structure of the random vignettes of a 10 year old girl, Takahata revised to screenplay to include an older Taeko character - as a 27 year old in 1983 and remembering her youth. The 1983 scenes would play in linear order while the flashbacks would be randomly during her 5th grade life. Stylistically the time periods look very different. The 1983 scenes are colorful with deep greens of the mountainsides and bright oranges of the safflowers, while the 1966 scenes are pastel colors looking faded, with the surrounding edges of the frame looking completely faded - like not being able to see memories of yesteryear as clearly because of the time passed on. The 1966 scenes are mostly taken from the original manga so readers would be able to recognize key scenes - the exchange of milk and onions with the classmate next to her, the torment that the nasty kid Abe gave Taeko for 6 months of her school life, the time boys found out that girls were wearing special underpants for period cycles. The awkwardness is extremely embarrassing for a kid at the time, but hilariously childish in hindsight for the adult Taeko. But rather than concentrating on the childhood memories, the 1983 linear story is as important. She is at a crossroad in her life whether she admits it or not. Her mother and sisters remind her that she is still not married, not in a relationship, and only living the single working life rather than looking at a future with a family. As shown in her childhood flashbacks, she was always attracted to life in the countryside but was unable to go since she had no family outside of Tokyo. Her will to volunteer as a farmer is her way of connecting with nature and finding herself, but in essence finds much of her life and ways are shaped through various events of 17 years ago. At the farm in Yamagata she encounters Toshio (played by Toshiro Yanagiba), who left his office job to become an organic farmer - something Taeko subconsciously wants but hasn’t done. The relationship between the two is not of a traditional love story, as it’s not a Hollywood style love at first sight story at all but one of a slow build up between the two.

There were additional problems that plagued the production including the production not meeting deadlines and eventually the release getting pushed to 1991. Also the original manga was aimed at children but the finished film version was more aimed at a very niche crowd for an animated film - adult women. It was a large gamble for Studio Ghibli, and ”Only Yesterday” was released theatrically in Japan on July 20th, 1991. The film was an unexpected box office success, becoming the third highest grossing film in Japan that year with 3.18 billion yen, just behind “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” and “Home Alone”. Needless to say, it was the highest grossing Japanese film of the year and continued to cement Studio Ghibli as the most well-known animation studio in Japan. Probably not a large surprise, but the film was not a big hit with children, who could relate to the 1966 scenes but would see them as awkward and embarrassing and not being able to relate to the 1983 adult Taeko scenes. With adults, memories of their own youth came flooding back while watching the film, adding a dimension of themselves into the emotional arcs.

When Studio Ghibli made a partnership with Walt Disney in 1998 following “Princess Mononoke” (1997) which grossed a staggering 19.2 billion yen in Japan, “Only Yesterday” was included in the package, but Disney was reluctant to release the film because of its uncommercial nature compared to the fantasy and adventure films of Studio Ghibli, the film was not dubbed into English and remained in distribution limbo. Although it was labeled as some as “undubbable” because of the cultural aspects, it was in fact dubbed into a variety of languages including Cantonese, German, Korean, and Mandarin for their respective markets. The film was released in 2006 in the UK and in Australia but without an English dub and in subtitled form only. 25 years later, with the license moving to GKIDS, it was decided to give the film an English dub and release it in America for the first time. Daisy Ridley would voice Taeko and instead of her natural British she would play it in a non-regional American accent. Dev Patel on the other hand as Toshio would voice the part in his natural British accent. This was an unusual choice for the dub and one that doesn’t work entirely. In the English dub when Taeko talks to her sister on the phone and mentions going to the countryside, she puts on an American country accent to copy the speakers. But the folks in Yamagata do not have a particularly country accent, and Toshio’s character in English for some reason becomes British. These may be minor points as it is a Japanese production set in Japan and it is strange for them to be speaking English anyway.

Time has been kind to “Only Yesterday”. Audiences who saw it as a kid may not have appreciated it much, but years later they are able to see it with a new light from an adult perspective. It’s definitely meant to be seen as an adult looking back and the film is able to produce that effectively. Often labeled as “a minor Ghibli masterpiece”, it should just have the label simply “a Ghibli masterpiece”.

Note this is a region B Blu-ray which can only be played back on region B and region free Blu-ray players

Video

Studio Canal UK presents the film in 1080p in the original 1.85:1 ratio in the AVC MPEG-4 codec. The film was remastered by Studio Ghibli for the Japanese Blu-ray release in 2012 and this UK release uses the same high definition master. Colors are beautifully reproduced, with brightness and darkness of the 1983 scenes looking magnificent, while the pastel look of the 1966 scenes also look great with each brushstroke fully realized. Grain from the original film is still visible and damage has been cleaned up. There are minor issues with stability, with minor wobbling of the frame in static scenes, but it is extremely minimal. Previous UK Blu-ray releases of the Studio Ghibli were controversial for their use of noise reduction to clean up the image, but essentially removing lines of animation and detail in the process. This release does not seem to suffer from DNR and looks filmlike.

The original Japanese film credits have been removed and replaced with newly created English language titles. For Studio Canal UK, they have been quite inconsistent with the title sequences. Some of them have both English and Japanese, depending on the language chosen in the menus. Some have Japanese only, and some have English only. While it is quite a minor deal, it is a shame that the Japanese voice actors’ names have been completely removed from this Blu-ray edition.

The film’s runtime on disc is 118:46.

Audio

Japanese LPCM 2.0 stereo
English LPCM 2.0 stereo

Both the original Japanese language track and the newly created English dub are offered in lossless stereo sound. Dialogue sounds completely clear with very little directional use while the music and effects are separated by the left and right channels. The main theme “Ai wa hana, kimi wa sono tane” sung by Harumi Miyako sounds great, and is interestingly a Japanese cover of “The Rose” by Bette Midler with Takahata who re-wrote the lyrics. The score by Katsu Hoshi and the Hungarian music that is used also sounds wonderful. Silence is used quite a lot in the film and even the “soundless” moments sound great - take that how you will.

There are optional English and English HoH subtitles for the main feature, both in a white font. The standard English subtitles are literal translations of the Japanese track (in British English - “Maths” rather than the American “Math”), and the English HoH subtitles caption the English dub track. Both are easy to read, timed well, and there are no problems with grammar or spelling.

With previous Studio Canal UK Blu-rays they had only provided English literal subtitles and not a captioned English track. Having both on the release is very welcoming.

Extras

Like all the other Studio Ghibli Blu-ray titles in the UK (except “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind”), this is a Blu-ray + DVD set. The extras are as follows:

DISC ONE (Blu-ray)

Storyboards (picture-in-picture) (118:46)
Appearing in the bottom right corner of the frame, the complete storyboards for the film are available in an optional picture-in-picture form, just like other UK Studio Ghibli releases.
in 480p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1

"The Making of Only Yesterday" documentary (46:20)
This television special which aired on NTV in July 1991 was for promotion of the theatrical release. It is viewers are shown the behind the scenes of the process of the adaptation, location scouting for references, animation, and voice recording. Also included are interviews with Miyazaki and Takahata, plus clips from their previous productions such as “Heidi” and “Conan: Boy of the Future”.
in 576i (PAL) MPEG-2, in 1.33:1, in Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 with optional English subtitles

"Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast" featurette (7:47)
This featurette focuses on the newly created English language dub. There are interviews with Ashley Eckstein, Daisy Ridley, and Dev Patel along with recording footage.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

"Interview with the English Dub Team" featurette (16:30)
This on-stage interview for the English dub premiere features voice actress Ashely Eckstein, producer Geoffrey Wexler, English-language screenwriter David Freedman, and director Jamie Simone. They discuss why it took so long to have a dub created, how important it was to keep the Japanese nuances while making more than just a literal translation.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1, in English LPCM 2.0 with no subtitles

Foreign Trailers and TV Spots (7:34)
The trailers show their age with damage here and there and with audio having fidelity issues.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.85:1, in Japanese LPCM 2.0 with optional English subtitles

DISC TWO (DVD)

Usually with the UK Studio Canal Blu-ray releases, the DVD copy has been the old Optimum Releasing (basically Studio Canal UK before the name change) disc thrown in, without remastering or new extras. For this disc, it is a new disc and entirely different from the Optimum Releasing disc.
The DVD has the film and the storyboards. The film is taken from the same remastered source as the Blu-ray and transferred properly to the PAL standard. It has the English language credits, the same 1.85:1 transfer, with both Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo audio options, with the same optional English and English HoH subtitles for the feature. The storyboards are not picture-in-picture but in a second angle form which is in full frame.

The film on the DVD is uncut and runs 113:53 (4% PAL speed-up).

The UK Blu-ray includes nearly the same extras as the foreign counterparts, though there are some minor differences. The UK offers the storyboards in picture-in-picture while others have them in full frame multi-angle form. But at least the UK DVD copy has that option as well. The Japanese Blu-ray also offers a “Voice Recording Script” feature which viewers can see and read the original script with a jump to scene access. The UK release also includes the same English featurettes from the US release but the new English theatrical trailer from the US disc has not been carried over for the UK release. The US release’s English audio is in lossy DTS 2.0 stereo audio while the UK release has lossless 2.0 stereo audio so for people that prefer the English dub, the UK release is the better option.

For the DVD copy, the previous Optimum Releasing DVD had the film with Japanese credits, storyboards, the documentary, and trailers available while this new Studio Canal disc only includes storyboards but adds the English dub track and English credits. Not much of an upgrade in extras but the picture is better.

The most disappointing aspect is that there are no "new" extras from the Japanese side - no retrospective interview with Takahata, no interviews with the original writers of the original comic, etc.

Packaging

The UK release under “The Studio Ghibli Collection” comes in a standard Blu-ray case with a slipcover that has the exact same artwork and text, and a sticker promoting it as a “25th Anniversary Remastered Edition including a brand new English language version”. The spine number is “14”, and for people keeping track of the spine numbers, the UK releases are wacky and inconsistent.

Overall

The first time I watched “Only Yesterday” I was a teenager and just didn’t quite get it. The 10 year old Taeko scenes were pretty funny but not much of a nostalgia trip, and on the other hand the 27 year old Taeko scenes completely bored me. Revisiting the film as an adult it has completely changed - my own nostalgia and reminiscence of my 10 year old self and things I went through came crawling back and gave an emotional punch that was completely unexpected. Essentially, the film is not for 10 year olds, but for people who used to be 10 years old. The UK Blu-ray gives great video and audio, and good extras. Highly recommended.

The Film: A Video: A- Audio: A Extras: B Overall: A-

 


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