Jeremy Clarke finds out what’s really new in the new release.
A week before When Marnie Was There arrived in UK cinemas this June, Studio Ghibli’s earlier Only Yesterday came and went with comparatively little attention. Isao Takahata’s 1991 follow-up to Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday came out on DVD in Japan in 2003, then in the UK and other non-American territories including Australia and Germany in 2006 followed by France and Hungary in 1997. All these countries’ discs had subtitles in their own languages.
For English viewers, the Japanese release had already presented the film with those all-important English language subtitles. The UK and Australian discs from Optimum Asia and Madman Entertainment went one better by adding subtitles to the hitherto untranslated extras. Thus, the feature-length storyboard with Japanese soundtrack which allowed viewers to switch between storyboard and movie now had on/offable English subtitles too. An informative 1991 Nihon Television documentary entitled The Making of Only Yesterday outlined the film’s production at Ghibli and delved into the working relationship of the studio’s two founding directors. Understandably, it focused more on Takahata than Miyazaki, who served as the film’s executive producer but it’s clear that the film wouldn’t have happened without the involvement of both.
With the subsequent advent of Blu-ray, many of the Ghibli films have been rereleased in the UK. When Only Yesterday was announced as a release on separate Blu-ray and DVD formats, you’d be forgiven for thinking that was simply a case of reissuing the DVD to coincide with the first release on the new format. Not so.
Most of the Ghibli films released on disc in the UK gave the viewer the option of watching a subtitled or a dubbed version. Many of these dubs were the ones done by Disney in the US under their Ghibli deal. Only Yesterday was one of the few films not to get dubbed under this arrangement and never got a Disney release in America. Disney’s rights have since lapsed, and were picked up by the distributor GKIDS. Geoffrey Wexler, who joined Studio Ghibli fifteen years ago, can be found in a 15-minute panel discussion on the new Only Yesterday disc explaining that he was told by his bosses that the film was “undubbable”. He didn’t agree, and through a mixture of perseverance and stubbornness managed to get a dub to happen, pulling in the necessary funding from various distributors in different international territories such as GKIDS in the US, StudioCanal in the UK and Madman in Australia. GKIDS released the film theatrically in the US in January 2016.
I have long had an issue with anime dubbed into English and it’s this: the rhythms of the two spoken languages are very different. Listen to a Japanese person speaking and they punctuate their speech with all manner of non-verbal cues, many of which have no obvious equivalent in spoken English. Most English-dubbed anime doesn’t know what to do with these little glitches. However, the Only Yesterday dub avoids this seemingly inevitable pitfall using laughs, coughs, and all sorts of things to make those little moments work. So much so that I unexpectedly enjoyed the dubbed version more than the subtitled.
This may also have something to do with the subject matter. Ghibli period pieces like Princess Mononoke or The Tale of the Princess Kagoya aren’t films I want to watch in anything other than Japanese. They have too much to do with the indigenous, historical culture. Conversely, a film about a city woman spending time in the countryside may be a far more global concept that works equally well in different languages and cultures. One key element in Only Yesterday is the Hungarian music that Toshio calls “farmers’ music” in the subtitles and “peasants’ music” in the dub. I would imagine the experience of watching the Hungarian subtitled DVD is quite poignant given the obvious reference points to that culture.
Adaptation changes pull the dialogue further into the English vernacular. In a closing scene’s voice over, Taeko talks about being with Toshio as ”like breathing in and breathing out”, a hugely effective phrase taken from English adaptor David Freedman’s own past.
It helps that the English voice cast are superb. Listening to the track, I don’t get the impression these actors were chosen for their names’ marquee value to sell the film so much as for their ability to do the job. The main character is 27-year-old Tokyo office worker Taeko who takes a holiday in the countryside of her childhood where memories of school and holidays mingle with present day romance with a young organic farmer Toshio. Daisy Ridley breathes terrific life into Taeko’s voice. Her Transatlantic accent here contrasts with the much more British sound of Dev Patel’s Toshio. Perhaps because she is a city girl and he a country boy, this works well.
StudioCanal’s 2016 release has everything from Optimum Asia’s 2006 release, aside from a pile of trailers for other Ghibli films. The feature-length storyboard comparison, the Nihon Television documentary and the Trailers and TV spots are all there. This new release, however, is a two-disc package with much more. In addition to the superb dub on the first disc, the second disc has a featurette on the voice cast making the film and a fascinating Q&A session with the team behind the dub. If you’re upgrading to the Blu-ray that’s obviously going to look better in terms of picture quality alone, but even in terms of the DVD, this new release is a considerable improvement on its predecessor.
Only Yesterday is released on Blu-ray and DVD in the UK from StudioCanal.