Only Yesterday: A Nostalgic Walk Down Memory Lane




Only Yesterday, a film stylistically different from other films from Studio Ghibli. Directed by Isao Takahata, the film is a relaxed, slow-paced story about a young 27-years old Japanese woman who recounts her childhood when she temporarily returns to her hometown in the countryside.

Most of the film is occupied by Taeko, the main protagonist of the film, her mundane actions such as helping her family at the safflower field, and her recounts of childhood spent in her hometown. Although the film doesn’t incorporate magical or supernatural feel like My Neighbor Totoro, or Nausicaä, but it attracted a lot of young adult, myself included, and reaped success upon release in 1991. 

A Brief Summary and Thoughts

The main protagonist of the film, Taeko Okajima, lives in Tokyo and works as an office woman. The film starts with her deciding to visit her family in the countryside of Yamagata Prefecture after her mother calls her and expresses her concern over her daughter’s unmarried status.

Along the way and during her stay on the countryside, Taeko reminisces about her childhood, her friends, her dreams. A large part of the film shows Taeko’s reflection on whether she’s done well in life so far, has she fulfilled her childhood dream? Would her younger self like the life she’s living as an adult now? This question posed by the film is one of the reasons why it’s a timeless piece because it’s relatable to everyone in their adulthood and older.

Personally, these questions are constantly at the back of my mind, are the things I’m doing really what I want to do? Would my younger self have done the same thing? There’s a certain ideal that childhood is the part of a person that’s still pure and true to oneself. One of the main reason I pursued study abroad in the beginning was to go soul-searching, to confirm whether medicine is truly the field I want to go into.

Because the decision is one of high financial burden, I didn’t want to jump in recklessly without thoroughly considering the costs and consequences of failing my pursuit. But if I look back in my adolescent days and remember to think simply like a child, my goal becomes slightly clearer and simpler.

Although I have not found a solid and clear answer yet, all I know now is that I want to help people in the underserve communities with skills that I best excel at. The answer(s) to the question of what those skills are is still pending, but slowly and surely I believe it will be answered. That motivation, for now, is enough to drive me along this unfamiliar road called adulthood.

All in all, the film itself was my personal walk down the memory lane because it was one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films when I was young. I could not explain why I liked it so much since it was just a mundane story of a middle-aged working woman.

However, through her walk down childhood memories I enjoyed seeing how she grew up and what shaped her as a person. Perhaps I too, as a child, wondered what kind of adult I would grow up to be. Now, even though I’m technically an “adult”, the wonder of what the future may bring and how it will shape me is still something I fantasize and look forward to. 

Only Yesterday film cover, featuring the main protagonist, Taeko, in her adult and adolescences age.