Only Yesterday is maybe the least accessible Studio Ghibli work – literally, since it’s not available in the U.S., and emotionally since it’s an adult film that is also full of cultural references. But while the film may not have the following of some other Ghibli films, it’s equally wonderful – and it may present my favorite coupling of all their films. Warning: this post is full of spoilers.
Taeko Okajima is a young working woman who decides to go to countryside on vacation. She will spend the time farming and living with extended family. Picking her up at the train station upon her arrival is a distant relative, Toshio, an organic farmer. Although the narrative is from Taeko’s point of view, the audience suspects that Toshio takes an immediate liking to her. Taeko, however, doesn’t seem to even consider the possibility of romance until forced to near the end of the film.
The movie moves back and forth between the present and the past. Taeko’s young self accompanies her, as it were, on the trip, as she remembers memories of growing up – some fun, some awkward, and some very painful. Running subtly through the film are feelings of shame and brokenness that haunt Taeko. She cheerfully reports her memories, but the kinds that are dredged up (as well as the words she sometimes uses to convey them) reveal deep-seeded hurt and the possibility that she’ll never really find happiness.
In an unexpectedly dramatic turn of events, just before heading home, Taeko has to confront the possibility of a romance with Toshio. She confides in him, revealing a sadness she’s previously tried so hard to cover up with a cheerful personality. Toshio, in turn, smokes a cigarette and continues to be the same man he’s always been. He likes Taeko and will take her as she is. This is emphasized later when Taeko is about to leave, as Toshio asks her to come skiing in the winter.
Her whole life, Taeko has been told by others that she’s different – that she doesn’t live up to expectations. She feels unloved. But Toshio loves her precisely as she is. Once Taeko is able to take that all in and accept it, she’s transformed, able to find a personal happiness.
Taeko feels unworthy of love…but there’s someone out there that loves her just the same.
Have you ever felt that you’re unworthy of love? Has someone showed you otherwise?
Note: This is one in a series of posts this Passion Week which examines anime relationships in which one person loves the other for who they are. On Easter Sunday, we’ll make the connection to God’s similar love for us.
Day 1: Araragi and Senjogahara