Passion Week, Day 2: Loving You for Who You Are – Taeko and Toshio (Only Yesterday)

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.

Taeko and Toshio
Taeko and Toshio

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

14 thoughts on “Passion Week, Day 2: Loving You for Who You Are – Taeko and Toshio (Only Yesterday)

  1. You have no idea how amazingly thrilled I am to see this anime up here! xD This is so true of the film. I think you said a lot of things here about this movie that I couldn’t find words for in my review. Her brokenness and unsureness in herself is so subtle and hard to pin down, but definitely there. Man, this was a beautiful film- I might have to go rewatch it now!

    As for the ‘unworthy of love’, I feel that a lot. More than I care to admit. And I’m sorry to say that I really have yet to feel otherwise. I have some serious self-esteem issues.

    1. I’d forgotten about your review…I’ll need to go back and read it now (I love reading reviews after finishing a movie or series). And thanks for kind words! 🙂

      I guess maybe you connected well with Taeko? I think a lot of people feel similar to you and her, particularly young women. I hope you’ll find peace and feel loved – I’ll be in prayer for you, my friend!

      1. The older I get, the more I connect with her. I got where she was coming from when I first saw it 4 years ago, but this last year I felt I understood her. I kind of see myself like that in the next 5 years. I even have some similar memories to what she has, like being picky about food, and having some very selfish moments, and having a hard time in school (and driving my parents and teachers up a wall with them!).

  2. Great pick from a great movie that I was fortunate enough to have seen in a theater (in the US, no less!). The movie did do a good job of giving us an insight of how we’re shaped by our environment and those flashbacks worked well in delivering the “I laughed, and then I cried” moments.

    That said, there might be some explanation needed about the long threads of hurt that ties her past to her present, since I couldn’t really see it and mostly saw the film through the lens of my own life as a collection of experiences and comparing how analogous they were to my own. There were happy moments, there were moments where I feel I didn’t live up to expectations, but that’s just how life is sometimes and I’m one to accept it and move on and keep trying to reach my potential all the while acknowledging that there’ll be a detour or two along the way. But I don’t mind that in the least.

    1. You saw it in the theaters? So lucky! Was it with the recent traveling Miyazaki film festival? I wanted to make it out when it came to my city, but didn’t get the opportunity.

      I think I view in my life in a very similar manner as you. I appreciate even the difficult times and sometimes look back on them fondly. Our past leads to our present, and the pains and hurts (as well as joys and successes) help us grow into who we are. Of course, I also view this in terms of my faith, intertwined with the idea that God governs these paths I’ve walked.

  3. First you tell me that this movie is hard to get ahold of. Then you go on to make me really, really want to watch it. That’s not very nice… 🙂

    I don’t think I’ve ever felt unworthy of love. I KNOW I’m unworthy of God’s love, and I know that Jesus fixed that. Instead, I might worry about being accepted and wanted for who I am – all of who I am. There’s a subtle difference. I know that I am loved by Jesus (and I have verses to meditate on when I think of how unworthy I am)… but could any plain old human (outside of my close family) love me and put up with me if they really got to know me? I try not to worry about that too much – the only One whose opinion really matters has said that He loves me despite (and including) how unworthy I am. Other people’s opinions shouldn’t matter. If I find that I’m thinking about them too much, it’s back to the Bible verses for me.

    1. Well, it might be better to say that it’s hard to get ahold of *legally*. I have a friend who bought an imported set of Miyazaki’s films that had English subtitles, and that’s how she got to see it. But it’s between that and going to an illegal streaming/torrenting site.

        1. Yep, that’s a good depiction all right. I try not to even consider the illegal route, because I know I’ll rationalize it much like in that comic and end up breaking my promise to myself… again.

          1. but … but … look at how fast it’s downloading!
            😀 😀 😀

            (although this is untrue if you’re like me – living next to Timbuktu with max DL speed around 100KB/s)

              1. I understand that feeling. Thankfully my friend had the sane route- just buy straight from Japan. The creator was still getting the money, and she got to see unreleased Ghibli/Miyazaki films. It was all good!

      1. Also, and I alluded to this in another comment, there’s a Miyazaki film festival traveling around the U.S. right now, and it may include other Ghibli films as well. So, it’s possible that this movie will be playing in a theater in your area…

    2. Thanks for the comments, Annalyn! Indeed, it isn’t until we realize the depth of our sin that the love of Christ becomes meaningful to us.

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