The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Only Yesterday

Title: Only Yesterday aka Omohide Poro Poro
Genre: Drama
Company: Studio Ghibli
Format: Movie; 118 minutes.
Date: 20 July 1991

Synopsis: Okajima Taeko, a single 27-year-old working an office job in Tokyo, is about to head off on a vacation to the countryside. It’s something she’s longed for ever since she was a child and a chat with her sisters on the eve of her departure triggers a flood of recollections of her 10-year-old self. As she learns about farming and spends time with her brother-in-law’s family, she can’t help but reflect on the child she once was. In her musings, she is joined by Toshio, her brother-in-law’s cousin, with whom she quickly forms a deep connection. Out on the farm she finds a comfort that allows her to rediscover herself.

The Highlights
Characters: As human and realistic as they come.
Story: Quiet and relatable.
Romance: Understated.
Farm life: Fascinating.

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Only Yesterday is one of those films that I keep coming back to again and again because it always leaves me smiling. It’s a story of self-discovery, like many others, but what makes it so memorable is how real the characters feel and how relatable they are. The film depicts flawed people living their lives. Toshio, for example, is earnest and genuine, yet clumsy and socially awkward. When Taeko shares an important memory with him, he is at a loss as to how to respond, choosing instead to comment on the weather. Taeko herself is kind and warm, but recognizes that she has been hiding behind a polite facade, not being honest with herself. She turns to her 10-year-old self to remind herself of who she is. What she finds is not a perfect little angel, but a child who throws a tantrum over a plastic purse, who enjoys acting and singing but can’t divide fractions, and who cares immensely about what her classmates think of her. The flashbacks, animated in faded, soft colours, explore her relationships with her parents, sisters and friends. They carry an air of nostalgia without ever putting on rose-tinted glasses. In one scene, the family purchases an exotic fruit, a pineapple, but don’t know how to eat it. Her memories are fond, but don’t skip over the mistakes and disappointments that helped to shape her.

Back in the present, the early 1980s, the film takes the time to explore what was already becoming an uncommon way of life. Together with her brother-in-law’s family, Taeko picks flowers to be turned into blush, pressing and drying them into a deep red powder. This respect for traditional ways of life is a theme common in director Takahata Isao’s works. It is not surprising then, that the adult Taeko was created by Takahata to tie together the several different short stories of Taeko as a child which made up the original manga.

Takahata also brings to the film his mastery of subtlety, so that much of what the characters are feeling in Only Yesterday is gleaned through their facial expressions. Taeko’s father, for example, shows his fondness for his youngest daughter not through hugs and praise but through thoughtful glances. The animation allows the characters to be very expressive and the seiyuu provide the characters with a lot of personality. The entire film maintains an upbeat and positive atmosphere, including some genuinely funny moments as well as a romance that is understated and refreshing. This atmosphere is supported by a soundtrack that differs from most other Ghibli productions in that the songs are often part of the story. Toshio plays Hungarian folk songs in his car and Taeko sings the theme songs from children’s TV shows, providing diverse musical styles. The film is capped off with a Japanese version of “The Rose”, performed most famously by Bette Midler, which stands as one of the most beautiful Ghibli theme songs.

The overall story is quiet and reflective, taking its time to build up to the conclusion. At a first glance, the older Taeko can seem quite different from her younger counterpart. She has matured and found a way to blend into society. On the train, she reflects that one of her former classmates learned early to do as she was told and is now a successful mother. As much as she admires her old friend, Taeko knows that this fate is not for her. Looking back, it is the creativity, excitement and, most importantly, the honesty of her younger self that she seeks to recapture. This film knows what it strives to be and executes it well. Though it won’t be for everyone, it represents the quality and artistry that Studio Ghibli is known for.

The Rating: 9
Fantastic

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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