Director: Isao Takahata
As twenty-seven-year-old Taeko goes to visit her relatives in the countryside, she begins to remember her fifth grade self. Taeko has always lived in the city. However, as she picks saffron flowers and begins to fall for a handsome farmer, she wonders if she’s living the life she has always wanted.
Only Yesterday is a quietly reflective film, one that moves between past and present as Taeko attempts to discern who she was, who she is, and who she wants to be. It is a not a plot-driven film, but rather a character-driven film. Not all the pieces fall into place and some memories that emerge seem unrelated to much going on in Taeko’s adult life. But it’s that randomness that makes the film feel so charming, so very real.
Taeko herself is an engaging character who will earn viewers’ sympathy with her dedication to hard work, her delight in beauty, and her spirit. That spirit is somewhat hidden in the twenty-seven-year-old woman, but it emerges in Taeko’s recollections of herself as a fifth grader. Quiet, easily embarrassed, and often childish and petulant, the fifth-grade Taeko still has hope in life. She enjoys simple luxuries like a bath. And she’s asking her future self to wake up and to move her life in a direction that will make her happy.
Fans of Studio Ghibli will want to check out Only Yesterday. It is a heartfelt endeavor that emphasizes respect for the land and finding one’s self in nature. At times the message may feel heavy-handed, but the message is sincere. And it’s difficult not to want Taeko to buy into it and to find her happily ever after working on a farm.