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Anime / Only Yesterday

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Present & Past Taeko

It's 1982 and 27-year-old unmarried Taeko Okajima works as an office lady in Tokyo. She decides to spend her summer holiday at her brother-in-law's farm in the countryside to help out with the safflower harvest, since she liked going there the year before. She sees it as a great way to get a break from the city life for a while.

During her trip she gets overcome with memories of when she was 10 years old and in fifth grade. In a series of flashbacks, imaginatively interwoven with her current life, a picture forms of her youth, filled with math problems, friends, boys and the typical throes of a girl growing up. It results in her wondering whether she is being true to her own nature in life, since she has wanted to live in the country since she was a little girl.

Only Yesterday, Japanese title Omoide Poroporo, was released in 1991 and not only is it the first Ghibli film to be released after the Cold War, but is also an atypical Studio Ghibli product in that it lacks the fantastic plot devices that permeate most of the studio's work. It was directed by Isao Takahata and produced by Hayao Miyazaki. The result features lots of lovely scenery, intriguing, believable characters and wonderful, fluid animation.

After 25 years, an English dub of the film was finally released in 2016 by GKIDS, featuring the voices of Daisy Ridley, Dev Patel and Ashley Eckstein.

Only Yesterday provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: The present-day portions are set in 1982, while the flashbacks to Taeko's childhood take place in 1966; the film itself was released in 1991.
  • Animation Anatomy Aging: Seen with how Taeko's face changes at age 10 and 27. Most notably, the older Taeko has visible smile lines.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Taeko tends to be viewed as this by her older sisters, especially since to them, their father is a lot more indulgent towards Taeko.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: A variant. The Japanese title uses an antiquated spelling of "Omoide" (おもひで rather than おもいで) to reflect that it takes place partly in The '60s.
  • Arcadia: A major theme running through the movie is the characters' love for the countryside. Toshio, however, makes a point to note that what most people think of as "untouched" countryside has actually been heavily cultivated by people: carving rivers, planting forests, cultivating crops, and so on.
  • Art Shift:
    • There's a subtle one between scenes that take place in the present and flashbacks to Taeko's childhood; in Taeko's memories, the characters are drawn closer to Studio Ghibli's typical style and the colors are more faded, while in the present day the characters are drawn more realistically and the colors are more vivid. The backgrounds in the past segments are also done in fuzzy watercolors that often fade to white.
    • When Taeko imagines herself on all the magazine covers, she's drawn with more pronounced eyes, like a character from a manga of the time.
  • Author Tract: The movie is filled with monologues about the importance of Japanese farm life, usually delivered by Toshio.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: All of the people in the public baths are nude, but no detail is drawn.
  • Bland-Name Product:
    • Young Taeko does her daily exercises listening to a "Suny" radio.
    • Averted with Puma; the youthful desire for the same brand-name products that "everyone" has is a plot point, and Puma is the brand in question. The film even cuts to an image of Puma's logo that takes up the entire screen.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: Taeko affects the Tohoku accent while she's discussing her vacation to Yamagata over the phone.
  • Call to Agriculture: At the very end of the film, Taeko is on the train back to her Soul-Crushing Desk Job when she decides, with the help of younger self, that she prefers the countryside and moves in to become a farmer with Toshio and his family.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Both Taeko and Hirota have problems expressing themselves verbally when meeting in the street.
  • Character Tics: Toshio has the habit to start sentences with a sort of clicking noise (possibly either tongue clicking or him making a "tsk").
  • City Mouse: Taeko expresses a desire to visit the countryside from a very young age, and continues doing so even as she grows older.
  • Coming of Age Story: In a double dose—once when Taeko was a child, and another at a later age.
  • Cool Big Sis: Taeko to one of the younger girls on the farm.
  • Cue the Rain: It starts to pour down while Taeko is dealing with her biggest inner turmoil.
  • Daddy's Girl: Strangely, although the insufferable part of his strictness stands out to viewers, there are small hints that Taeko is this to her father. For example, Taeko places her onions on her father's dish with no fear of scolding (her mother does that scolding) and she even pleads for something she wants while thumping his shoulders to massage them. He refuses her, but even his reprimand is gently stern and rather reasonable, and his older daughters complain he spoils Taeko rotten. The dubbing makes it clearer that despite all his stoicism, his interaction with Taeko gives him an affectionate edge, with him calling her "little bear".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Taeko's grandma occasionally has something to say about the family matters.
  • The Determinator:
    • Little Taeko is determined to enjoy that sour pineapple she was so excited about by forcing herself to eat as much as she could.
    • After getting scolded for trying to give her onions to her father, little Taeko shows a desire to be a better eater by begging her mother not to dispose of the onions.
  • Family Theme Naming: Youngest sister Taeko, middle sister Yaeko, and eldest sister Nanako.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Taeko's father rudely cuts short Taeko's acting career by forbidding her to do it, saying "show-business people are no good" and offering no further elaboration.
  • Ghibli Hills: But of course! Toshio actually discusses this trope at length. When Taeko admires the "natural" landscape, Toshio points out that everything she sees, from farmland to woodland, has actually been managed and cultivated by humans over the generations. He then moves on to discussing the importance of treating the land with respect.
  • Homage: To the films of director Yasujiro Ozu. This is emphasized by (1) the opening credits shown over a background which looks like the surface of a woven mat, which is how the titles & credits of all of Ozu's film appeared, (2) much of the story being Slice of Life drama, and (3) the elderly man who boards the train in the film's end, who is just like an extra or supporting character who appears in the backgrounds of Ozu's films.
  • I Choose to Stay: At the end, Taeko decides at the last minute not to go back to Tokyo and stay in Yamagata.
  • Imagine Spot: Loads as Young Taeko, a bit less as an adult.
  • Iyashikei: The film is very leisurely paced and, barring a few dramatic moments, lacks much in the way of serious conflict. It instead focuses on Taeko remembering her childhood while taking a vacation picking safflowers in the beautiful countryside, resolving the issues in her current life by recalling events from her past.
  • Left Hanging: A lot of storylines in Young Taeko's life just end, without much of a resolution. Justified as they are slices of her life from when she was ten years old, and in real life such things rarely if ever have a specific beginning, middle and end. Also, the memories are from 17 years ago, of course she would only remember parts that stuck out the most.
  • Love Epiphany: While on the train back to Tokyo, Taeko starts seeing her ten-year-old self and her classmates from back then everywhere, and she realizes her love for the countryside and possibly Toshio too is not just an escape. She decides to return and invokes I Choose to Stay because of this.
  • Magic Realism: The ending, where Taeko's ten-year-old self and classmates seem to interact with real life: they stop the bus and make Toshio stumble.
  • Market-Based Title: From Omoide Poroporo ("Trickling-Rain Memories", describing the way Taeko's memories trickle back to her) to Only Yesterday, as in "it seems like only yesterday".
  • Maybe Ever After: Taeko and Toshio. Toshio's family tries to egg Taeko into marrying him, but start arguing with each other, causing Taeko to run off; later, Toshio makes a joke about "what they might think we've done" after he and Taeko have a long chat in Toshio's car. The ending doesn't draw any lines one way or the other.
  • Mundane Made Awesome:
    • Taeko's older sisters invoke this while marveling about the lovely baths at Atami to Taeko. They are luxurious baths, but they're praising it just to play along with Taeko when really they have no interest in the bathhouses themselves. Being a kid, Taeko is excited over lovely bathhouses.
    • The family, especially little Taeko, makes a big deal out of having a pineapple in their household. Justified in the culture and time period where imported fruit to Japan was very expensive.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Implied in a few cases.
    • Taeko's dad slaps Taeko because she accidentally ran outside with only her socks on (which, in '60s Japan, was the equivalent of being in your undergarments). Taeko's wails as he watches, his stoic face falling slightly. Taeko questions why it was the first and only time it happened.
    • Taeko's mom gets into an argument with Yaeko concerning the latter helping her sister with math. During the argument, Yaeko says that the math problems on the test are normal when Taeko's mom explodes that Taeko isn't "a normal child"... with Taeko reaching the last stair as she says that. She then tries to cheer Taeko up by repeating the same lie from earlier that Taeko missed so many problems because she had a headache from the paint blow art her class had done earlier that day. She even admonishes Yaeko later during Taeko's tutoring for raising her voice at her sister.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: Played with. Taeko really wants a specific bag that her sister Yaeko doesn't use anymore, but Yaeko doesn't want to give it away. She finally gives in and gives Taeko the bag... but Taeko has lost interest, since Nanako told Yaeko she shouldn't keep holding onto the bag since it's "for babies".
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Girls discuss their periods. Boys discuss the girls' periods. Girls chase boys with brooms.
  • Old Maid: Taeko's mother is annoyed that she turned down a marriage proposal, saying "at 27, that's the best she's going to get".
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping:
    • Briefly in the English dub, as young Taeko counts out the sections of the apple she’s drawn, her voice actress Alison Fernandez, who is of Mexican descent, can be heard rolling the "r" when she counts to three.
    • This also hits Toshio to an extent, who’s voiced by British actor Dev Patel. It can be mistaken for Accent Adaptation at first, but for the most part the Tohoku accent is rendered as more of a rural American accent.
  • Parents as People: Taeko's parents generally meant well and were loving, but they didn't always understand her and their parenting styles were very rooted in 1960s Japanese sensibilities (with Taeko's father in particular being very standoffish and stern most of the time).
  • Reaction Shot: Of the family members tasting the pineapple. Most faces are expressing dislike.
  • Real-Place Background: Eidan Marunouchi-sen subway, Ueno Station and the some of the countryside.
  • Scenery Porn: As usual for a Ghibli movie, but this one delivers some lovely scenes involving safflower.
  • Shout-Out:
    • A visual one for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial's E.T. Doesn't make sense in context.
    • The dress Taeko wears as a little girl is very similar to the dress Satsuki wears in My Neighbor Totoro.
    • In one scene, Taeko watches and sings the theme song from Floating Gourd Island, an actual Japanese children's puppet show from The '60s. There are clips from the series featured in the film as well, though with a noticeable filter over them.
    • There are some references made to the Takarazuka Revue; Yaeko is mentioned to have had a crush on an otokoyaku actress, and Nanako says that Taeko could join the revue if her acting career takes off.
    • The horror manga of Kazuo Umezu is mentioned at one point.
  • Shown Their Work: Lots of details from 1960's culture (including The Beatles) and the Subaru R-2 subcompact car.
  • Slice of Life: Taeko's memories are largely ordinary, mundane events in her childhood.
  • Soul-Crushing Desk Job: Subtle, but it's implied that Taeko's stress from her office job is what causes her to take a sabbatical to the Yamagata countryside. There, she finds herself by reliving old memories, falls in love with the countryside, and ultimately chooses to stay.
  • Standard '50s Father: Though Taeko's memories as a ten-year-old take place in 1965, her father hits quite a few points for this trope. He's stern and stoic but can be loving towards Taeko in his own way, wears glasses, frequently smokes cigarettes, and wears a suit when going out (though he wears a kimono at home).
  • The Stoic: Taeko's dad and Taeko's grandma (to a lesser extent).
  • Translated Cover Version: The ending theme, "Ai wa Hana, Kimi wa Sono Tane," may be better known to Western listeners as "The Rose," and was a hit song for Bette Midler under that title in 1980.
  • Written Sound Effect: The "poroporo" in the Japanese title, which describes something trickling down like rain. Taeko's memories of her childhood come trickling back to her in this fashion.