Only Yesterday (Japanese: おもひでぽろぽろ Hepburn: Omoide Poro Poro[n 1], “Memories Come Tumbling Down”) is a 1991 Japanese animated drama film written and directed by Isao Takahata, based on the 1982 manga of the same title by Hotaru Okamoto and Yuko Tone. It was animated by Studio Ghibli for Tokuma Shoten, Nippon Television Network and Hakuhodo, and distributed by Toho. It was released on July 20, 1991. The ending theme song “Ai wa Hana, Kimi wa sono Tane” (愛は花、君はその種子, “Love is a flower, you are the seed”) is a Japanese translation of Amanda McBroom’s composition “The Rose”.
Only Yesterday explores a genre traditionally thought to be outside the realm of animated subjects: a realistic drama written for adults, particularly women. The film was a surprise box office success, attracting a large adult audience of all genders and becoming the highest-grossing Japanese film of the year in the country. It was also well received by critics, with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
In 1982, Taeko Okajima is 27 years old, unmarried, has lived her whole life in Tokyo and now works at a company there. She decides to take another trip to visit the family of the elder brother of her brother-in-law in the rural countryside to help with the safflower harvest and get away from city life. While traveling at night on a sleeper train to Yamagata, she begins to recall memories of herself as a schoolgirl in 1966, and her intense desire to go on holiday like her classmates, all of whom have family outside of the big city.
At the arrival train station, she is surprised to find out that her brother in law’s second cousin Toshio, whom she barely knows, is the one who came to pick her up. During her stay in Yamagata, she finds herself increasingly nostalgic and wistful for her childhood self, while simultaneously wrestling with adult issues of career and love. The trip dredges up forgotten memories (not all of them good ones) — the first stirrings of childish romance, puberty and growing up, the frustrations of math and boys. In lyrical switches between the present and the past, Taeko wonders if she has been true to the dreams of her childhood self. In doing so, she begins to realize that Toshio has helped her along the way. Finally, Taeko faces her own true self, how she views the world and the people around her. Taeko chooses to stay in the countryside instead of returning to Tokyo. It is implied that she and Toshio begin a relationship.
The story takes place within the Takase district of Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture. The Takase Station (and also Yamadera Station) of the JNR (currently JR East) Senzan Line is featured prominently; though it has since been rebuilt, the scenery remains mostly unchanged. During the course of the film, characters visit prominent locales, including the resort destination of Mount Zaō.
Unlike the typical Japanese character animation style, the characters have more realistic facial muscles and expressions due to the dialogue being recorded first (the tradition in Japan is to record it after the animation is completed) and the animators fit the animation to the spoken dialogue. However, the scenes of Taeko’s childhood past were animated before the voices were recorded, giving a subtle contrast between the anime style of her childhood and the adult “reality” of the framing story.
Those scenes set in 1966 with the 10-year-old Taeko are taken from the source material. Takahata had difficulty adapting the episodic manga into a feature film, and he, therefore, invented the framing narrative wherein the adult Taeko journeys to the countryside and falls in love with Toshio.
There is a repetitive Eastern European theme in the film, particularly in the soundtrack reflecting the peasant lifestyle still present in the area and the parallels this draws with Japanese rural life. Folk songs from the area repeatedly occur in the film. For example, “Frunzuliță Lemn Adus Cântec De Nuntă” (Fluttering Green Leaves Wedding Song) is a Romanian folk song written by Gheorghe Zamfir and occurs in the film repeatedly during the landscape shots, for example arriving at the farm. Instruments used include the prominent nai played by Zamfir himself, cimbalom and violins. There is also Hungarian music in the film, using pieces of music such as Brahms “Hungarian Dance No. 5” in a scene where Taeko is eating lunch, and making references to Hungarian musicians when she is in the car with Toshio (“Teremtés” performed by Sebestyén Márta & Muzsikás. Adaptation from a Hungarian traditional folk song). The music of Márta Sebestyén with Muzsikás is used in several scenes as well. Bulgarian folklore music is also used in the soundtrack. When Taeko is on the field, one can first hear Dilmano, Dilbero, followed by Malka Moma Dvori Mete. These are typical Bulgarian folklore songs and the lyrics of both are connected to topics mentioned in the film – the life of farmers and marriage.
The TV character Machine Gun Dandy looks like Daisuke Jigen of Lupin III fame. The character is seen when Taeko recalls her childhood favorite puppet show Hyokkori Hyotan Jima (ひょっこりひょうたん島 “Floating Gourd Island”) that aired every weekday on NHK from 1964 to 1969.