Another Studio Ghibli movie, that I wanted to watch from long time and happened to watch very recently is Only Yesterday(1991). Speaking of Ghibli movies, you can also check out The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.
“Only Yesterday” is a story focused on women and written for adults. The main character, Taeko, is a 27-year-old working woman living in Tokyo. She has never experienced life in the countryside but decides to take some time off to visit her elder sister and in-laws and help them with their safflower harvest. While traveling by sleeper train to Yamagata, memories from her childhood flood back into her mind one after another. Let’s discuss some of the highlights of these memories.
Eating pineapple for the first time: Taeko remembered the first time her dad brought home a fresh pineapple from the market. All the women in the house – Taeko’s grandmother, mother, and two elder sisters – were intrigued by this new fruit. None of them knew how to cut it open since they had only ever had canned pineapple before. After waiting for a couple of days, one of her sisters finally figured out how to cut it open. This memory makes Taeko nostalgic because we have become so dependent on the internet that it’s hard to imagine how people functioned without it in earlier times!
So everyone gathered around the dinner table to taste the fruit. The girls were surprised by how different it tasted from canned fruit. Nowadays, there’s a taste-testing video or blog for every fruit imaginable on the internet, leaving little room for surprises.
Picky Eater: Growing up, Taeko was a picky eater. Her mother would get upset whenever she wasted food. To minimize waste and enjoy their favorite foods, Taeko made deals with other picky eaters. I understand how Taeko felt – I am also a picky eater and feel guilty about wasting food. But thanks to my supportive parents and elder sister, who have always had my back at weddings, lunch parties, and more!
The Period Talk: Taeko was thinking about the time when all the girls were told about their periods. Naturally, guys became interested in knowing what it was all about. One girl snitched and the news spread among the boys like wildfire. Some girls felt embarrassed while others were taught by their moms not to feel shy about it. Girls were allowed to skip PE classes during their period, but Taeko realized that any girl who did so would be marked as a “period girl” by the boys. Despite having a fever, she didn’t want to skip PE just to avoid being teased.
My school experience was different. I attended an all-girls’ school from beginning to end. Our teachers never gave us a period talk, nor did they mention periods in any context, even though we had only female teachers. Periods were taboo among the girls; no one would admit when they got their first one. Looking back, it feels foolish. In college, we hid period products from guys like it was a secret mission to save/destroy the world!
Crushed by the crush: Taeko remembered when a boy had a crush on her in fifth grade. She blushed whenever his name was mentioned. One day, the boy finally gathered enough courage to talk with her and they became friends.
Struggle with math: Math wasn’t Taeko’s strongest subject. Fractions were her biggest challenge. I wouldn’t say that I was bad at math, but my mom had very high standards and expected nothing less than perfect marks. I still remember getting slapped in the face by my mom for making a mistake in a solution the day before an exam (although she typically used other forms of discipline such as scolding, taunting, or giving me the silent treatment).
Being flooded by childhood memories, Taeko arrived in Yamagata where she met Toshio, her brother-in-law’s second cousin. She spent a lot of time with him working in the fields and helping with the harvest. One day when Taeko’s niece was scolded by her mother, Taeko shared how she too had been a spoilt brat as a child.
The Spoilt Brat: Being the youngest of three girls, Taeko had acted like a spoiled brat many times. Those who only knew her as an adult found it hard to believe. As the second child, I’ve been called a spoiled brat by my older sister on multiple occasions too. She might be right sometimes, but we’ve all been immature and childish at some point, wanting everything our way. I also remember being disciplined by my father with a couple of ass-whoopings – though fortunately, those days aren’t vivid in my memory. Taeko went sightseeing nearby with her niece and Toshio and shared memories of her brief fame in a drama.
The star of the drama: Taeko used to receive minor roles in her class. Once, she had only one line in her part. Despite this, she was passionate about it and created several versions of the line. However, her teacher did not allow improvisation. Instead, Taeko expressed herself through acting and everyone loved her brief performance. As a result, a reputable drama club offered her another role; unfortunately, Taeko’s father was firmly against show business and did not permit her to participate.
Taeko had big plans for that drama, but later joined the drama club in high school and found out acting wasn’t her thing. Despite people often asking her to settle down and get married during her enjoyable time in the countryside, one evening her sister’s mother-in-law brought up the topic of Taeko marrying Toshio and staying there as they seemed compatible together.
Taeko was embarrassed by the proposal and left home for a while. Though she didn’t accept or reject it, she wondered how life with Toshio would be. He picked her up and they headed back home. On the way, Taeko remembered Abe, a poor boy who briefly attended her school. Everyone avoided him due to his dirty clothes and haughty attitude, but Taeko sat next to him. On his last day at school when he was asked to shake hands with everyone, he refused to shake hands with Taeko and left. She still felt guilty about that incident.
Toshio explained that the boy liked her more than anyone else, which is why he didn’t want to say goodbye. Taeko realized she felt comfortable around Toshio during their conversations and wanted to hold his hand that day. The next day, she left for the city but returned to start a life with Toshio in the countryside.
My final thoughts:
‘Only Yesterday’ transported me back to my childhood. The story is told from a working woman’s perspective and is refreshingly realistic for its release year of 1991.
All in all, I’d rate this movie 4.5/5… Thanks for reading, hope the movie makes you nostalgic too! 🙂
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