- Alt. Name
- Omoide Poroporo
- Release Date
- July 1991
- Studio Ghibli
Only Yesterday is a 1991 Slice of Life Drama anime film by one of the most beloved animation studios in the world, Studio Ghibli. Compared to other studios from the same time, their catalog is relatively small compared to them. However, even if a person is unaware of who the studio was, they are more likely to be able to identify its most prominent characters. Though, much like Disney, they are not prone to creating mass flops, can this film still be relevant and beautiful to watch now as it was back when it premiered over thirty years ago?
Taeko Okajima is a 27-year-old, independent woman who spent her entire life in Tokyo. After all the stress from her office duties and day-to-day responsibilities had started to get to her, returning to the countryside, she once loved as a child seemed like a great idea. Looking to unwind from the rush of the big city, she decides to visit her family in the country to help during the harvest.
On the train there, Taeko vividly recalls her memories as a schoolgirl in the initial stages of puberty, as if she is on a trip with her childhood self. A young farmer named Toshio picks her up at the station, and they quickly develop a friendship. During her stay, Taeko forms a strong bond with family and friends, learning the contrasts between urban and rural life and the struggles and joys of farming.
When people are about to watch a Studio Ghibli movie, they know they are in for a treat with its story. Only Yesterday has attempted to meld the Slice of Life and drama genres with the country’s way of life. For the most part, the pacing was adequate to the narrative, and the level of childhood memories to present-day life is well balanced. Perhaps this was due to the writers not having dream sequences or changing the surroundings to tell the audience that this is happening and enjoy the ride. Having a film or series be able to abandon the clear dialog explaining what’s going on instead of physically showing the audience is a lost art form in any forum.
Another positive aspect of the story was that it was straightforward to understand the characters and watch them develop naturally. Too many movies, let alone series, overcompensate for their lack of originality or their weakest point; the inability to have the viewers connect to the characters they are watching. This problem is one of the more powerful parts of storytelling that this film has a good grasp at doing. Along those same lines, this story had multiple areas within the writing that seemed like a stereotypical Slice of Life Drama piece, but they could contain them and entertain the potential viewers in more ways than one.
However, looking at the story critically, there are easy pieces to this story that viewers who have grown up with the studio may have missed. For instance, the film is practically two hours long, and viewers will feel it in some areas. While it was mentioned earlier that the character development was very well done, which it was, the ability to have a tremendous amount of character development with equal amounts of giving the viewers the ability to have sudden memory loss. After watching this film more than three times after a week of not watching, it will provide the viewer barely any recollection of what they observed is outstanding.
Now, this might not be alarming or even given a second thought to some viewers, but when all their previous films leading up to the film were Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki’s Delivery Service. So, when a film in the same lineup as those other films, arguable masterpieces to some, when this story was a complete wash within potential viewers’ minds is remarkable, and not in a good way. To put this into perspective, the Disney Renaissance was from 1989 to 1999; imagine if, after all those fantastic childhood movies came out, Disney released The Wild directly after Beauty and The Beast. People worldwide would think there was no renaissance to begin with.
Another negative about this story was that this is not the case if a potential viewer is hoping to have an incredible romance story. Though there is romance within the movie, this is lukewarm compared to other anime films and series of the era. While this may be a decent attempt to get a viewer into the genre, the romance is very forgettable. Whether this was due to the film focusing on the more Slice of Life and Drama aspect and the less critical romance, or males, have a more challenging time creating romance within written devices. Either way, don’t go into this with the expectation of viewing a wonderfully written romance cause it’s not there.
Though the most extensive area that must be mentioned within this story is that the overall writing is not that good, not terrible but also not good, if a viewer lives in the United States each year, there is Studio Ghibli Fest, with six or so movies from the studio playing during the year. However, when it comes to Only Yesterday has only been featured once during the entire tenure of the festival. At the same time, this is nothing to be worried about if this is the viewer’s first viewing but consider that for the story from this beloved animation studio.
Though when it comes to the art style of Only Yesterday is very reminiscent of the time of Ghibli. With the classic physically hand-drawn animation cells versus the modern way of drawing on computers. While this is nothing new, they still keep the same style and feel with the contemporary look of today’s technology. Though the story was sublime, the artwork has not aged at all compared to other series and movies of the time. The beautiful color tones and character designs were created by talent and deserved respect and accolades it received.
Don’t underestimate the beauty of a Ghibli film based on the story alone because that is usually always a losing bet. But when it comes to the animation production of the film, that’s where this duo shines. The musical pieces within this film are wonderfully crafted and, when added to the artwork and colors, make this even better. Is it the best that the studio has created to this point? Absolutely not, but it is still very entertaining to watch, no matter what the viewer thinks of the film.
Taeko Okajima is a 27-year-old unmarried woman who has lived her entire life in the bustling city of Tokyo. Though she is currently holding a position with a company, she is somewhat unwilling to work and decides to take a 10-day vacation. She is a bit hardheaded regarding the country lifestyle as she has never visited the countryside before now, even though she sincerely wished she did when she was a little girl. Comparing her adult self to her ten-year-old self, she had a broad sense of wonder in the world growing up, and somewhere along the way, that twinkle in her eye faded.
Toshio is the main deuteragonist of the film. He is an organic farmer and a friend of Taeko who often drives her around. He is best described as having a polite personality; he is funny and charming but not enough to make everyone notice him. He is a hard-working farmer, and though the farm is challenging work, he enjoys it as it helps people out within the community.
Outside of these two characters, a couple needs to be mentioned even though they are not the primary or secondary characters. Toshio’s Mother lives in Yamagata. She wears a white hood and blue dress with a greenish undershirt. She is the stereotypical mother, caring about her wellbeing, always supportive, and hints about grandchildren. Then there is Abe, an exchange student whose family moves to Tokyo. He starts to bully Taeko, and she learns to dislike him very much, but as she reminisces about him, she takes a different point of view. And of course, there are massive amounts of characters within the families and classroom, but they can’t be summarized within a few paragraphs.
At the end of the movie, the viewer will feel like they got what they wanted, but a couple of moments later, the floor bellows out from under that feeling. While this is the studio’s first film within the nineties, it did not get a home release in North America until 2016! That fact says a lot about this film, and no matter how many accolades and box office data this film shows, compared to the movies prior and after Only Yesterday, this would be a prime candidate for the first official film outside of the behemoth that was “Studio Ghibli.”
Don’t get this review wrong; this is not a terrible movie, but as a Studio Ghibli-type film, there are plenty of other movies to watch before anyone should choose this piece. This film had hype behind it, given that the person that wrote and directed the film was the same person who did the Grave of the Fireflies. That is why this film is so praised solely for that reason alone. If DreamWorks or Illumination made this film, they would be box office bombs and potentially ruin the studio.
Cody Senpai is the creator of BakaNow, an anime review website that specializes in spoiler-free reviews for everyone. He is an avid anime watcher who has traveled to Japan numerous times to not only experience the culture and history but also to build friendships with people through a common interest. He is an avid animation fanatic from birth and even went on to major in communication to help share the importance of the stories we love to watch and listen to. Cody lives in Denver, Colorado and loves to do anything adventurous.