Only Yesterday's Getting a Dub?!


I’m sure every collector has that one item he or she desperately craves, yet can never seem to acquire. For me, it’s Only Yesterday, Isao Takahata’s 1991 drama about a woman who heads to the countryside and relives her childhood in Tokyo. I’ve been collecting Studio Ghibli movies since that scratched-up copy of Spirited Away was inserted into my laptop in the Fall of 2010, and since then I’ve managed to purchase every movie in the studio’s repertoire on disc to-date. All expect for Only Yesterday, that is.

It’s not like I’m slacking off. I’ve seen the movie in fansubs already, due in-part to Infinite Rainy Day insisting I keep a weekly routine. But it’s not the same as owning it without shelling out a bloody fortune for a subtitled release that might not play properly on an NTSC DVD player. And that’s on top of my mom not lecturing me for wasting money on “dumb purchases”. (Thanks for the encouragement!)

All of this changes, however, with the recent announcement from Geoffrey Wexler, head of Studio Ghibli International, on his Twitter account on August 5th, 2015:

“Sweltering in Tokyo… Heading to LA (nicely chilly recording studios!) this weekend for recording with our good friends at #studiopolis.”
Despite the Tweet being somewhat vague, it’s easy to assume that, since every other Studio Ghibli film to-date has been dubbed, this was referring to Only Yesterday; after all, the information on his LinkedIn profile confirms it:
“Producer, English-language Dub, "Only Yesterday”
Starting February 2015
Team members:Geoffrey Wexler, James Hubbert, Ian MacDougall, Jamie Simone, David Freedman, James Lafferty, Evan Ma, Dawn Hershey, CSA, Penelope Glass”
I think you’d have to be dense after that to claim that that Tweet wasn’t about Only Yesterday. And the announcement is awesome, but it leaves two lingering issues:

Firstly, and this has to do with how the reveal was made, I doubt this was “accidental”. It’s not the first time Mr. Wexler has dropped an announcement like this. If memory serves me correctly, he did it with The Wind Rises, The Tale of Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There, and now he’s done it with this. I’d understand a one-off, he’s only human, or even twice, since not everyone learns from their mistakes, but three times? Four? Now you’re getting into “I’m an idiot!” territory, and I doubt he would’ve gotten this far in life if he were that.

Also, if it really was a mistake…why is his LinkedIn profile confirming this? I don’t know much about LinkedIn, except that close family and friends keep inviting me to join it, but isn’t it your “professional business profile”? Why would you leak something that big by accident, then confirm your mistake? Better yet, why wouldn’t PR come in and do damage control? Accident-shmaccident, this was planned…even if it’s kinda late to be dropping the ball (February of 2015, huh?)

Secondly, why the delay? I know it’s been requested for years, but yeah…Only Yesterday came out in 1991. It’s a 24 year-old movie with many opportunities to dub it. And yes, Disney might’ve been afraid because of the references to menstruation (even though that doesn’t explain how Pom Poko got approved,) but since GKids has had licensing rights to Studio Ghibli distribution for nearly 5 years there’s no excuse. Actually, there was no excuse before that! Subcontract it to Miramax (if this were still the 90’s,) Touchstone Pictures (which Disney owns) or send it straight-to-video. Sitting on potential profit, even if it’s not huge, is lazy!

I mean, do you WANT people to think you don’t care about Studio Ghibli fans? It’s bad enough that My Neighbour Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service are crapped on by long-time fans for “butchering Miyazaki’s work” with “unnecessary re-dubs”. Do you want them to crap on you too for ignoring Isao Takahata? Or do you not care, Mr. “I’m 24 years late on dubbing a classic”? Is that what you want, Mr. Wexler? Because I wouldn’t!

Okay, that last part was mean. But it begs the question of why it took so long, as Studio Ghibli’s been around long enough to gain a massive following. Perhaps they were waiting until Studio Ghibli announced restructuring, only to have an ace in the hole and make more money? Regardless, it’s a dick move to wait that long. Especially since Only Yesterday’s been released in limited runs in the West to critical praise. I’d think that’d be reason alone to give it a shot, but you never know!

If it sounds like I’m being overly bitter, I’m actually excited about this, even if I’m not head-over-heels-in-love with Only Yesterday. Because it brings up plenty of logistics questions, like how’s distribution gonna work? Will it be released in limited theatrical run first, or will it go straight to DVD/Blu-Ray because it’s an older movie? Will there be a commentary explaining the delay? What’ll the marketing campaign be like? And, of course, who’s gonna voice the characters?

Each of these questions I’d ask of Studio Ghibli movies in general, but I’m particularly excited because Only Yesterday is so old. It’d be like Disney only releasing The Hunchback of Notre Dame to the rest of the world now because of content politics: there’d, naturally, be a lot of questions. And, hopefully, they’d be answered quickly!

Also, here’s hoping this is real, and not another case of dangling the carrot in front of our noses. We’ll know once more news hits, but for now this is awesome!


  1. Out of curiosity, when you allude to your Ghibli disc collection, are you accounting for "Ocean Waves" [aka. "I Can Hear the Sea"]? I know it was made for TV, and wasn't a theatrical release, but its still technically an official Studio Ghibli film that has yet to see an NTSC release.

    Good on you for catching onto how Disney really had no excuse not to at least farm "Only Yesterday" out to either Miramax or Touchstone. GKids is a studio that seems more willing to distribute this sort of movie, however. So if they're the distributors, I'm not going to be nearly so surprised as I would be if it turns out to be Disney or one of their subsidiaries.

    1. I'm not, although I'd always be game to try it out if I ever got a chance.

      As for the "unnecessary" part? Not my words. I don't think they're unnecessary at all. And I like Disney's dub of Castle in the Sky. Obvious miscasting aside, and even then they fit the part quite nicely, it has the right amount of hamminess for the premise. And it's leagues beyond the original dub from the 80's...

    2. Then, if you'll pardon my nitpicking, your statement - "I’ve managed to purchase every movie in the studio’s repertoire on disc to-date. All expect for Only Yesterday, that is."- is not strictly accurate, because "Ocean Waves" has been released on DVD in Japan, and I believe the UK as well.

      And I know those weren't *your* words. I just needed to get my feelings off my chest :-)

      I'm not one to blindly defend dubs against any and all criticism. But neither am I anti-dubbing. I simply ask for two things. One: a faithfully translated script that takes no knowing liberties with the characterization, the intended thematic points, and/or the overall plotline, and yet still sounds reasonably natural in the new language. Two: quality vocal performances that fit the characters. Disney has made some mistakes [most notably in their translated script for "Whisper of the Heart", which took the unacceptable liberty of altering a major part of the movie's ending]. But their successes at dubbing Ghibli's films significantly outweigh their failures. They even deserve credit for going back and fixing some previous egregious mistakes from when they were first starting out. The initial cuts of the dubs for "Kiki's Delivery Service" and "Laputa: Castle in the Sky" contained overly excessive amounts of additional dialogue not in the original scripts that hurt their overall quality where faithfulness was concerned [and in the case of Kiki, altered the film's ending unnecessarily]. Yet Disney did fans a favor by re-editing their dubs to remove this additional chatter, thereby restoring the films' original artistic vision whilst allowing viewers to enjoy the English performances free from such distractions.

      Regarding Paquin and Van Der Beek: I'll give the latter credit for giving a decent performance. Problem is, the voice he adopted was that of a person in their late teens, which is not at all what was needed for a character who has all the physical characteristics of someone who's no older than twelve or thirteen. He did bring some measure of enthusiasm to the role, but I nonetheless maintain he was miscast. Still, he did a better job than Paquin, who honestly sounded bored and phony more often than not.

      I haven't seen the 80s dub, but I'm given to understand that its utterly bland and lifeless. So I'll happily take the Disney dub over it, as Disney at least did a good job with the supporting cast. Nevertheless, if its a toss up between the Japanese dub and the Disney English dub, I'm going to have to go with the former. Pazu and Sheeta have to carry a good eighty percent of the movie. And if I'm constantly being distracted by their voices, then I find that my immersion in the movie is greatly hindered. With a film like Laputa, that immersion counts for a lot. So for my part, I'll stick to watching it in Japanese with subtitles, as Pazu and Sheeta's Japanese performers are a much better fit for the roles.

    3. I actually consider the dub's ending to Whisper of the Heart to be an improvement over the original (though, to be honest, the ending sucks either way) simply because Seiji's bizarre marriage proposal was changed to a declaration of love. Much less ridiculous that way.

      I'll agree that Kiki's Delivery Service is better without the extra chatter, even though the release sounds like everything was spoken through a fan, but I have to put my foot down on Castle in the Sky: not only do the added lines add to the fun, but Hisashi's orchestrations make half the movie for me. I've seen 1/3 of the re-release, and I gave up right before the robot fortress fight because the movie was empty and lifeless without what the dub originally brought to the table. Plus, some of the lines that were cut were poorly edited out, to the point where you can see the mouth flaps moving at times, but nothing comes out.

      As for the 80's dub? I've listened to bits and pieces of it. Not only is it awful, but Anna Paquin's Sheeta sounds far more invested than Lara Cody's. Avoid it like the plague...

    4. That's not what I'm referring to, about the dub for "Whisper of the Heart". In the original script, Seiji plainly states in the final scenes that he is only back for a short while; he'll be leaving shortly to go back to Cremona, Italy, because the master luthier has decided he's ready for training. This is reflected in the alternate subtitle track included on the DVD. In the dub he says that he is *not* going to go back to Cremona, because the luthier has said he is not yet ready for training. That's a change that goes far beyond the bounds of what the translators should be allowed to do- it changes the ending.

      "not only do the added lines add to the fun"
      Read my words again: "where faithfulness was concerned". I never said the additional chatter held no entertainment value, only that it was a departure from an otherwise pretty faithful rendition of the original screenplay. And yes, the 2010 re-edit was not handled with as much care as it could have been. But as regards which cut of the dub is more *faithful*, the answer is simple: the 2010 re-edit. That fact is entirely separate from the question of which is the better aural experience.

      "Hisashi's orchestrations make half the movie for me."
      Its a lovely rescore, and its arguably better -when judged as stand-alone music- than the original soundtrack. I only regret that Disney couldn't think of a less patronizing reason for its existence than "westerners aren't used to there being so little music in a film". I've no quarrel with someone else preferring the film with the rescore. But for myself personally, the fact that Miyazaki approved the rescore and Hisaishi made it matters not a whit in light of its raison d'etre. For me at least, the original soundtrack worked just fine in context, and so I don't see any need to have something that isn't broken in the first placed "fixed" for me.

      "Anna Paquin's Sheeta sounds far more invested than Lara Cody's"
      Wow. Cody's performance must be truly awful, given how Paquin was so frequently phoning it in.

  2. And, uh..."Unnecessary" re-dubs? I *like* the Disney dub of Totoro, thank you very much. Same for their Kiki dub [in its 2010 re-cut form, that is]. And the Disney dub for "Porco Rosso", which I actually genuinely prefer to the original Japanese. I'm less keen on the Disney dub for "Laputa: Castle in the Sky", which the miscasting of James Van Der Beek and Anna Paquin ruined for me, but I'll still admit that it has its good points [Mark Hamill and Cloris Leachman gave good performances, for one thing].

    Generally-speaking, when Disney has re-dubbed a Ghibli movie that has already had a previous English dub, the results have -mostly- been just fine- and in a few cases, downright exemplary.

  3. James may not have been my first choice to play Pazu, but I personally think he did a much better job than Barbara Goodson in the '80s dub (I respect Barbara as an actress, but her Pazu sounded very all over the place and not convincing enough either), and honestly, I'm not a fan of the Japanese voice acting for this character or Sheeta, so despite the occasional missed line, I'm OK with them. Paquin never really bothered me at all, and I didn't really notice any missed lines on her part. And yes, she's still superior to Cody. At least in my opinion.

    1. I think you and crankyman7 are gonna love my next piece...

    2. And what's that going to be? Curious.

    3. I'm not ruining the surprise! Just be patient, all in due time...


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