Omohide Poro Poro
Warning! - This is a story synopsis of Only Yesterday and contains plot elements that may spoil first-time viewers.
It's 1982. 27-year old "office lady" Taeko Okajima is planning to take a sabbatical.
In 1966, 10-year-old Taeko is enviously finding that her friends are making trips to their families' hometowns during summer break. Her family is native to the Tokyo area, though, and has no such plans. Grandmother plans to go to a hot spring resort (atami), and Taeko's older sisters Yaeko and Nanako tell her about how nice it is, until their enthusiasm almost traps them into going.
The older Taeko talks to her eldest sister Nanako about her sabbatical. Mitsuo (Nanako's husband)'s family owns a farm in Yamagata which Taeko has visited before. Without a hometown to go to, Taeko wants to use this as a chance to adopt one. She relates it to her trip to the atami—and Nanako laughs over how easily Taeko had fallen into that!
The younger Taeko goes with Grandmother, and after waiting through a boring massage, she finds the atami's luxurious public baths to exceed her expectations.
The older Taeko passes by fruit stands, and remembers when Taeko's family encountered their first pineapple, but didn't have a clue as to how to cut one properly. Nanako later finds out, and the family gathers to see the preparation of this wondrous looking fruit. Tastewise, though, the pineapple fails, although Taeko doesn't give up on it easily. She inevitably concludes, though, like her sisters, that the "king of fruit" is the banana.
1966 was the year the Beatles toured Japan, and Nanako, in art school at the time, was a fan and kept up with the new fashions such as wearing the infamous mini-skirt. Yaeko had a secret crush on a male-part actress in an all-female acting troupe. Taeko remembers this as she sits to await her train. She sees a young girl.
The younger Taeko enthusiastically shares her schoolwork with her mother. Her mother finds that Taeko didn't eat part of her lunch, and reprimands her for the waste of food. At school lunch, Taeko's neighbor notes that she doesn't mind the taste of her milk, so he barters his bowl in exchange for eating her radish and onion the following day. As she expects, the second bowl doesn't go down so well. Later, a class debate leads to a rule against running in the halls. Chaos breaks out, however, after Taeko's pony-tailed friend Tsuneko Tani, primary advocate of the rule, proposes a "no leftovers" rule at lunch for the sake of those on clean-up duty.
The older Taeko boards her train.
A self-made delegation of three girls from another 5th grade class at the school informs Taeko that Hirota from their class is in love with her. Taeko's friends show her the proof positive—a "sukebeyokocho" graffiti of Taeko and Hirota together. Taeko has never even heard of this mysterious Hirota, so her friends form their own delegation led by Tsuneko to sniff out Hirota from the other class. Their report is so positive, they can't keep from running to tell Taeko (in spite of Tsuneko's own rule). Taeko soon finds out that Hirota is the ace pitcher of his classes' baseball team.
The two classes' teams compete in a game. In spite of Hiro's classmates making sure he is aware that Taeko is watching, his talent sees him through to delivering a shut-out performance. Having to answer nature's call, Taeko misses the final out of the ballgame. Hiro's classmates are still teasing him about Taeko, who panics and runs off. But on her way home she is confronted by Hiro. He tries to mention the sukebeyokocho, but is too nervous. So instead, he asks her which kind of weather is her type: rainy, cloudy, or sunny. She manages to reply that it is cloudy weather. Surprised, Hiro replies that they are alike (a la "matching pair"—"onaji"). He laughs, and runs off happily. Taeko also runs home in a state of ecstasy.
The older Taeko, alone in bed, repeats Hirota's words, and then breaks into a giggling fit. On the train, Taeko wonders why so many of her memories lately have been from her life as a ten-year-old. She enters her cabin, and the 1966 children run through the train's hall. She lies down and recalls that, among other things, this was the year she first encountered menstruation.
During P.E., the fifth grade girls are taken aside for a lecture on certain facts of life. Afterwards, the girls return to the classroom with hushed apprehension. P.E. isn't over, so the boys are still out. Toko, a slightly overweight friend of Taeko, shares what she knows about their classmates. The other friends join them and ask the girl if she has made "her purchase" yet. She has, and they ask if Taeko has also. Taeko finds herself agreeing.
At lunch, to the frozen fear of the girls, one of the boys has discovered that the school has made new underwear available to the girls as a service. Soon all the boys are questioning the girls just why this is the case, with of course no answer forthcoming.
Later on, Taeko finds her friends in the bathroom. They are concerned about their friend Rie, who has just started her period. It seems that Rie has told Nakayama (a boy she has a crush on) what mensing is. Consequently, the boys have finally discovered what the underwear thing is about. They tease the girls about it and look up their skirts. As if that wasn't enough, Rie later tells Taeko that she accidentally told Nakayama that girls having their period generally sit out P.E. Taeko realizes that now the entire school's male population has learned how to identify these girls.
As it happens, Taeko comes down with a bad cold, and her mother gives her a note for her teacher. Much to her dismay, Taeko finds that she is forced to sit out P.E. with Rie, who is glad for the company. They sit and watch their class play, while Taeko makes sure that Rie understands that she is only sick. A stray ball heads their way, and Rie goes to retrieve it. But a boy comes and shouts at her to back off, so she doesn't "contaminate the ball"! Rie realizes that it looks to everyone that Taeko is having her period, too, and finds this funny. Taeko is NOT amused and gets very upset, but the excitement makes her stomach worse. The rest of the day is an ordeal for Taeko, as she denies the accusations of teasing boys.
The older Taeko, resting in the train, muses that for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must first become a cocoon, and she doubts that a caterpillar ever really wants to be a cocoon.
Early morning. The train pulls into Taeko's station. She disembarks, but there is no sign of Mitsuo's brother, Kazuo. A stranger wakes up to find the train has left, and panics. He then spots her, and asks her if she is Taeko Okajima. Relieved to hear she is, he grabs her bag and starts to go. Taeko, flustered, asks who he is. He realizes that she wouldn't have expected him, and introduces himself as Kazuo's cousin's cousin Toshio. She digests this, and laughs herself to tears—she thought he was trying to steal her bag. He replies that a thief wouldn't very well call her by name, though, would he?
As it turns out, it's been raining, and they squeeze into Toshio's little white Subaru. As they head for the farm (and we briefly get a false, idealized conception of a drive in the country) Taeko learns that Toshio previously was a businessman who was introduced to agriculture through his friends. She is both surprised and quite impressed that he now really enjoys his new life—working in the big business world of Tokyo, she has never met someone who could honestly say they enjoy their work. She is interested in the traditional harvesting of benibana flowers. He confirms her understanding of how the lack of recent demand has decreased the number of benibana farms to a mere handful. Since this farm is one of the few, she purposely took the overnight express so she could immediately pitch in.
After the long car trip, they finally arrive at the farm. The family is at work harvesting benibana flowers. After a brief welcome, Taeko suits up to help out. Wanting to experience the old-fashioned way of picking the flowers, Taeko removes her glove and plucks one bare-handed. She is pricked by its spines.
The benibana—literally, "red flower"—is actually a yellow-orange color, but when processed, gives its namesake red pigment. A folk tale relates that this is because, originally, poor women who harvested the flower for use by the more well-to-do for lip-color picked them bare-handed. Because of their spilled blood, their grudge has cursed the flowers, which now give their famous blood-red color.
Taeko is quite caught up by the beauty of the country. The harvesting of the benibana progresses, and she experiences different stages of the process (plus taking a break with Kazuo's daughter Naoko to tie-dye some fabric), even with the odd downpour.
Later, Naoko tries to convince her mother to lend her money to buy a pair of fashionable PUMA sports shoes. The persistent Naoko makes Taeko laugh, until an upsetting memory comes.
Yaeko is complaining about how spoiled Taeko is, since their father brought her a present without it even being her birthday. Taeko argues that Yaeko always gets money for buying her new clothes, but Yaeko responds that these things will be handed down to her later anyway. Taeko protests that she could care less about second-hand things, that she wants new things. Yaeko reminds her she promised to give Taeko her new black handbag soon enough, but Taeko wants Yaeko to give it to her now. Their mother asks Yaeko why she hasn't given the bag to Taeko if she already told her she would. Yaeko agrees to give Taeko the handbag, but Taeko isn't interested anymore. This suits Yaeko fine.
Meanwhile, the family has made plans to go out to a restaurant. Taeko, unhappy with the cutesy handbag she has, decides she can't go. Her mother orders Yaeko to give Taeko the handbag, much to Yaeko's consternation. Yaeko retrieves it and drops it on Taeko's head, giving her a new reason to stay behind. Her father gives her one more chance to join them, but Taeko stays put, so he leaves. Realizing she really is going to be left behind, Taeko panics and runs out the door to join them. In her haste, she comes outside in her socks, and is on the verge of tears. Her father sees that she has come outside without shoes on, and strikes her without thinking. Her mother intervenes, and the frightened and hurt Taeko collapses and sobs. Taeko's father looks on sadly and in silence. Yaeko notices that a button has come off Taeko's coat.
Naoko is stunned by this story. Taeko is picking tomatoes, and comments that she regrets being so stubborn as a child. Naoko is so affected by this story that she secretly admits to Taeko that she doesn't really need the shoes, and will lay off her parents.
Toshio invites Taeko to visit a nearby ski resort, though the weak engine of his car ends up holding up traffic on the way. At the resort, he asks her why she hasn't married. The rate of marriages is up, but Taeko likens her life to her weakness at division in mathematics. A friend once told her that weakness in division is a sign of a "jinxed life." That friend being of course good at such problems, did in fact wind up with a "smooth" life.
1966 Taeko's test on dividing fractions scored only a 25%. Taeko explains to her mother that before math class is her art class, and they were doing watercolor work. In order to dry the artwork, she had to blow on it several times. All this blowing gave her a headache, and she accounts her poor performance to this. Her mother tells her to have Yaeko help her on the homework. Taeko is flustered, but Nanako isn't available, and her mother insists on it.
Yaeko looks at the paper with non-comprehending eyes. She runs downstairs and protests repeatedly to her mother. Taeko comes downstairs just in time to hear her mother tell Yaeko that Taeko is a "slow" child. Forced to do the tutoring, Yaeko shows Taeko that she forgot to invert her fractions. Taeko protests by example. The problem is 2/3 divided by 1/4. She draws an apple and divides the drawing into thirds, shading two of them. She then divides the section into fourths and shades one. Now clearly the two thirds are each divided in two, so she divides the remaining third as well and counts the total sections, getting six, hence her answer is 1/6.
Yaeko thinks about this, and realizes that the answer would be right, if she were multiplying fractions, not dividing. But Taeko knows that she was "dividing" here, so is confused as to why it isn't division. Yaeko finds she can't answer this, and just flatly denies the thought as being wrong.
Later, Yaeko talks about this with Nanako and her mother, thinking that something is wrong with Taeko's mind. Taeko is in the adjoining room eating an apple, and overhears some of the conversation. She grumbles to herself and tries dividing her apple with her fork.
Taeko and Toshio finish their talk and take the ski lift down. Driving back, they pull over on a shoulder for a break. Taeko looks into the valley and comments on the beauty of its nature. Toshio replies that many urbanites react this way, too, coming out here to "return to nature" as it were. But in reality, it is all the work of people. The fields and woods are the result of generations of farmers, not nature, and even the irrigating river was put there through human work. Taeko feels a familiarity with it, as if she belongs here. Toshio agrees that many feel this way, and thinks that humans have a symbiotic relationship with nature that they often forget.
Taeko enjoys further work on the farm, including a lesson at driving a tractor.
Taeko, Toshio, and Naoko enjoy a sunset resting on a hill. Four crows fly by and off into the distance. "Oh look, the crows are flying home! First one..." Taeko responds. This strange outburst confuses the other two, so she explains it was from her class performance of "Kobutori Jiisan", where she acted in the opening. The other two talk about roles they played. Taeko then tells them of how she almost became a star.
In 1966, it started with a class performance of "Kobutori Jiisan". Rehearsing, Taeko embellishes her part by adding a line of farewell to the crows. The teacher tells her not to do this. The night of the performance, though, Taeko deliberately sneaks her addition in anyway by adding an extended pause and good-bye wave.
Later, the "most amazing thing" happened. Taeko is watching a popular puppet show on TV ("Hyokkori Hyotan Island") when a talent scout comes by to pay his respects. Impressed by Taeko's subtle re- interpretation, he asks her mother if Taeko would consider acting professionally. Taeko is stunned and giddily imagines herself as a famous star. After the scout leaves, Taeko finds out that her mother approves of the idea. Taeko wonders at her good fortune.
At dinner, the matter is brought up, and the girls are ecstatic for Taeko. Everyone talks about how great it is, particularly Grandmother, who notes that Taeko is better as a performer than in academics like math. But then they realize that Father hasn't made any comment. They all wait for a response, but one does not come. They start to talk again, but then he puts his foot down and forbids any of his daughters from leading the life of an actress, case closed. Taeko is confused, and later tries to get an explanation from Nanako, to no avail. The next day the scout returns, and Taeko slumps as her mother tells him that Taeko has reservations against joining and apologizes for his going out of his way.
The scout ends up selecting Tsuneko instead. Out with her mother, Taeko is told not to tell anyone at school what happened and cause any jealousy. As the two walk off, Taeko sings her show's theme song...
Naoko and Toshio feel sorry for Taeko, but she won't have it. Then Toshio and Taeko reminisce about the show and their favorite character, leaving Naoko to wonder what they're going on about.
Soon Taeko will return to Tokyo. Kazuo's mother asks Taeko if she's enjoyed the stay, and Taeko replies that working here is far better than her life in Tokyo. The woman then suggests that she could stay here, and continues by proposing an arranged marriage for her and Toshio. Kazuo and his wife overhear this and start to argue with her. Kazuo tells his mother she can't be serious, that of a matter of course, Taeko must return to Tokyo, but his wife takes the other side and argues how much Taeko has enjoyed the rural life. They argue about Taeko's feelings, until the silent Taeko can't bear it any more and runs off. It begins to rain.
Taeko walks away down the road. She feels she has been dishonest in what she has said about enjoying the work, and is now both scared of being trapped into a life she doesn't really want and confused by her conflicting feelings. Standing alone on a bridge, to her horror, a bad memory comes back. She sees Abe, a boy from her 1966 class, appear on the bridge. He is from a rural town, dirty in appearance, and bad mannered.
Transformed into the 1966 Taeko, her peers gather around her and talk about how terrible the new classmate is, and pity Taeko for having to sit next to him in class. Taeko tells them that it's okay and that he's not so bad, much to their disbelief.
"Don't make me hit you!" Abe shouts. He turns and walks away.
Taeko calls after the apparition, but he has disappeared. Instead, Toshio arrives in his car, wondering what she's doing way out here alone and if she's okay. He helps her in the car and starts to drive back. But she asks him not to return just yet.
She recounts what her mysterious vision was about. Abe, a new classmate, was assigned to the seat next to her. She didn't think he was a bad person, and felt wrong about how her classmates treated him. However, when she acted nice to Abe, he told her he would hit her if she pretended to be kind to him. When it came time for him to leave, he was required to shake hands with each of his classmates. Taeko was the last for him to get to. But when he came to her, he refused to let her touch him. And after that moment, she realized that she was lying to herself, and that she was the one that really hated him the most.
But Toshio doesn't agree with how she interpreted Abe's actions and feelings. He argues that boys (and girls) often confuse their feelings for others, and will act the opposite of how they feel, particularly in the case of the friendless Abe. So in acting as he did, Toshio thinks that Abe was showing that he liked her the most. Taeko doesn't believe this reasoning at first, but then remembers something else.
The younger Taeko encounters Abe out with his father. The boy breaks away toward her, and spits. His father knocks him on the head and they walk away. Taeko stares, then also spits, and walks away, mimicking Abe and spitting repeatedly.
Taeko realizes that Toshio is speaking the truth. (She actually liked Abe.) The rain has stopped and they get out to enjoy the fresh night air. Getting back in, Taeko still doesn't want to go back just yet, so they make an outing of it. Taeko examines her feelings for Toshio, finding his hand is the one she really wishes was hers to shake.
The next day Taeko waits with her friends at the station. They ask her to come visit again. Kazuo's mother asks Taeko to consider her suggestion. Toshio and Naoko wonder what she's on about, but she tells them it's Taeko's secret. The train arrives. Taeko boards as they wish her luck, but they are interrupted by an old man boarding with a loud radio. The door closes, and Naoko wishes a final quick farewell as the train leaves. Taeko hurries to a window to look back at the station, but it quickly disappears from sight.
The last and important part of Taeko's story is told as the credits are shown and requires no explanation.