As an introduction, Only Yesterday is a Studio Ghibli’s 1991 animation about a working woman in Tokyo, lost in childhood memories. It is an utterly beguiling classic, delicate, charming and tender, an animation that draws on the “family movie” tradition of Japan’s classic live-action cinema.
The story goes this way, Taeko is a single woman in her late 20s who works in a Tokyo office, with family and co-workers making impertinent comments about her unmarried status. She takes a holiday in the country that reminds her of her childhood, and with utterly confident directness Takahata takes us back to her 11-year-old world, interleaving these intense and almost ecstatically ordinary memories with her current, bittersweet life. The frankness with which Takahata evokes Taeko’s puberty, her loneliness, her yearnings, and how these mesh with her adult practicality and cheerful resourcefulness, is wonderfully managed.
I personally love the movie because it gives me a this positive feeling everytime I watch and honestly I have watched it more than 10 times, now that is a lot of time to invest on one movie, but it’s worth it. everytime i get to realise that there are more hidden messages in this movie and everytime i learn something new.
Another reason why i am so into this movie is because it is about a woman, the way she grows up, all the changes that take place in our lives, in our bodies, puberty, change in feelings, new emotions, they are so beautifully and realistically depicted in the movie. Taeko has portrayed the normal woman so wonderfully I feel I can relate so much to her.
One of the film’s extended passages finds young Taeko learning about menstruation, and detailing the fear she and her friends felt at being stigmatized by a perfectly normal bodily function. And it’s a feeling not helped by their male classmates, who in their ignorance and working from second-hand knowledge, take to looking up their skirts, trying to figure out who is on their period. She also learns early on that any fantasies she might have of creative pursuits will not be tolerated. After impressing in a one-line part in a school play that she cleverly expanded upon through her own initiative, a college production asks her mother for permission to cast young Taeko in a lead role. But her father, notably an either absent or silent, but no less foreboding presence, has the final word, and swiftly strikes down the opportunity for Taeko to express herself and perform, despite the excitement from the young girl, her mother, and sisters. The decision is given no further discussion or debate, and Taeko must reconcile her disappointment. But what leaves the most lasting impression on Taeko, is a moment she still struggles to puzzle out later in her life: why her father slapped her — the only time he ever hit her — when she stepped outside the house without her shoes.
Takahata plays these reflections with a quiet, gently paced hand, creating a story that slowly unfolds a portrait of two like souls who find a common connection. As a grown woman, unmarried and without children, which stands as unusual in her culture, Taeko becomes the outsider that her childhood suggested she always was, leading to this search through her memories to pinpoint the markers of her journey. And Toshio is also going through a particularly reflective phase. Chatty, and genuinely curious, not only about the world around him (he’s a fan of Hungarian music), but about Taeko’s thoughts and feelings too, he also stands apart, choosing organic farming over chasing the salaryman path that many of his friends followed from Yamagata to Tokyo. And naturally, a spark forms between the pair who are bonded by seeking a greater satisfaction from the world beyond the standard expectations of work and family.
The movie has is full of positivity. Failures, regrets and losses, they all are part of our lives, we have to live with them through it all, but that is not a bad thing, it’s ok to feel sad, lonely and unaccomplished, we all are humans and it is normal to fail. We must accept all the lemons life has given us and embrace the present. sometimes the happiness we are looking for everywhere is right in front of us, it just needs to be noticed. All the luxury a person requires is Peace. that is what the movie teaches me.
With “Only Yesterday,” Takahata not only succeeds in transmitting how years can flash by, also the way that passage of time makes clearer the moments that define our character, and go on to influence how we choose live later. It’s not a new notion, but it’s one chronicled refreshingly through the eyes of a young woman.