Only Yesterday: How to deal with our own past
In contrast to Disney or Pixar which are mostly intended for children’s viewing, there are many Studio Ghibli films that in my opinion, for animation features, which are originally intended for children rather than adults. Because of the stories, Ghibli made most of his films too poetic to be digested and “consumed” by children.
Such as its coming of age film, The Tale of Princess Kaguya which illustrates the divine principle, that in the end, everything belongs only to God, or too sad like The Wind Rises which told a story about someone who tries to reach a dream to the meaning of sincerity, or too depressed like Grave of The Fireflies about the effects of war on innocent children who don’t know anything.
Although, there are also Studio Ghibli works that are suitable for children’s viewing such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Cat’s Return to Ponyo, which hides certain issues very well.
It is precisely the honesty of the brutal honesty of Studio Ghibli that made the studio that founded by Hayao Miyazaki and the late Isao Takahata, according to me personally make it a few levels above Disney or Pixar, because of profound meaning hidden, and often explores themes that can make us think about life, meaning love, family, war, to environmental issues.
A Drama of Searching for Identity
Only Yesterday is an adult romance drama about finding true love. This film tells the story of a 27-year-old woman named Taeko Okajima. An office worker in the mega-city, Tokyo, who takes her annual leave and decides to spend it in the mountainous countryside, instead of swimming in bikinis on a Bali beach, or going clubbing in Vegas.
On the way to the village, suddenly flashbacks and memories of herself appeared when she was in grade 5 of elementary school back in 1966. And we will watch the memories or flashbacks in turn. So, the story will alternate between the present when she was 27 years old, and the past when she was 11 years old.
And from here, we are shown how the character seems to have not come to terms with the things that happened when she was a child that more or less affects her maturity and psychology. Especially at her age when people are getting married, and she stays single. And Taeko hasn’t found her soulmate yet.
Reminiscing about the past
Taeko’s childhood was like most of us, happy with new things. She reminisced about beautiful things that seemed small but sweet to be remembered. Like when the boys in the school pulling off girls’ skirt, having a vacation with a grandmother that ended tragically, eating pineapple for the first time, being scolded by her mother for her bad math score, or just before menstruation cycle hit, when it might be quite “embarrassing” because later in the film, male friends can make fun of her.
Then there’s what so-called first love when little Taeko is confronted by a boy named Hiro, a baseball star, who expresses his love. And somehow, according to me, this is presented in a funny, sweet, and very memorable way. When Hiro shouts at a crossroad, in the afternoon. And the dialogue afterward when Hiro asks, whether she prefers rain, cloudy or sunny, makes an adult Taeko seems to think that in a relationship, partners must have something in common.
When she arrived in Yamagata, Taeko met with Toshio for the first time, who picked her up at the train station. And in Taeko’s eyes, Toshio was a funny person. Toshio is a former office worker, like herself, who decides to become an organic farmer, and that makes Taeko amazed by his bravery. In Yamagata, they picked the Safflower flower, which is the main ingredient of blush in cosmetics, and somewhat the value is par with gold. Yes, rural life is fun. But, it made Taeko realize that people still live in limitations, unlike in big cities, like in Tokyo.
Traditional parents who are too pushy
When a character whines about buying expensive PUMA shoes, Taeko reminisces about her childhood. When her mother prefers her to eat food and was not picky about food, rather than to be a good writer. Until she clashed with her sister, Yaeko, because of a feud over a bag. Until her father was slapped her, just because little Taeko sulked and walked out of the house wearing no shoes, and made her cheeks swell.
Eventually, her mother discovered that her youngest daughter had a talent for drama, rather than being good at math. Until one day, an agent came to her house, asking her mother to let Taeko star in a play on his campus. And this happened, thanks to a little acting at her school.
But rejected by her father, because again, her father is a traditional parent, who is more concerned with schools that teach exact lessons than growing up talent.
Tried to be matched with Toshio
In the beginning, Taeko refused a man’s proposal by her mother, yet, she did not expect that Toshio’s grandmother would do the same thing to her by trying to match her with Toshio. Maybe in this scene, we can see how the contradiction within Taeko, who didn’t expect her love for the village would end like this.
Her memory of 11-year-old comes to mind once again, when a child character named Abe, a new student from another school, who looked shabby, and always spit, and always picks his nose. And when Abe moved to another school, Abe shook everyone’s hands, but her. She was still wondering why did he do that to her. When she ran away, because she was angry with the words of Toshio’s grandmother before, she was finally picked up by Toshio. And from Toshio’s words, Taeko finally realized that Abe actually liked Taeko. That the bad treatment Abe showed, was just made up, in order to ask for her attention
Finding True Love
And since that conversation, Taeko started to consider her feelings with Toshio. Maybe she also has the same feeling towards Toshio who is always cheerful. Taeko, who had previously been in awe of Toshio for being a nature ‘guy’. Taeko who also always laughs whenever Toshio does something funny. It’s like Toshio understands Taeko more than any man she has ever known.
On the way back to Tokyo, Taeko finally decided that she also had feelings for Toshio. That Toshio’s grandmother was right, about the two of them. And surprisingly, she was accompanied by all of her elementary school friends who suddenly “appeared” on the train, drove her back to the village. Like describing that Taeko, a mature woman, finally came to terms with her past, which previously haunted her.
Finally, she found her true love.