Only Yesterday: finding yourself in the shadows of others

I’ve always been the baby of the group. I’m the youngest sibling, youngest family member in the immediate area, youngest in my friend group, and I was always the youngest in my year at school (hello other July babies). Having recently watched the film Only Yesterday again it brought back a lot of memories, and also stirred up a lot of resentment I try to keep buried. 

The main character, Taeko is a twenty something year old single working in 1980s Tokyo, and decides to take a trip to the countryside to get away from the dreariness of the city. On her journey she recounts her experiences as a child growing up. Throughout the film we see both adult and child Taeko criticised, patronised, and belittled by her family.

Adult Taeko is criticized by her older siblings and parents for her lack of a relationship, something that sounds very familiar… It’s not that I don’t want a relationship, it’s that I want to find my own, on my own terms. And much like Taeko I’m only young. I’ve got the majority of my life ahead of me to find “the one”, or someone close enough. With every mention of someone of the opposite sex my parent’s eyes light up like a cats in the night, glowing with hope, only to be left disappointed. I also found Taeko’s journey of self-discovery relatable. I want to find fulfillment in myself before I begin to look for it in others.

I think what the film did best was remind me of the pain of nostalgia. I love reminiscing, and remembering all the scenes of my life that have led up to a slightly disappointing present. But that’s why we look back right? To remember a simpler time where we were maybe happier, if our memory serves us right. I think the greatest thing about being a child is the sense of anticipation and excitement for the trivial things in life, because in that moment nothing else can compare. A scene that really captures this is Taeko recalling the first time she had fresh pineapple. One day after plenty of begging, her father finally brings home a fresh pineapple (rarer than you might think in 1960s japan). Whilst not ending on the expected high, the scene really captures that child like innocence, lack of responsibility, and egocentric nature that allows children to enjoy experiences so much more wholly.

“And longing for an electric pencil sharpener. All those tiny things came back so vivid in my mind, like a movie was playing inside my head, almost overpowering my other thoughts, so clear I could see it”

Another common experience for us youngsters is a feeling of rejection. As hard as it is to admit, I do agree it was probably best I wasn’t allowed to join the weekday ritual of watching Eastenders until I was at least a teen. My own life was complicated enough without trying to work out the cause of all the drama on Albert Square. But more difficult to understand was my exclusion from family conversations, or why I was often simply ignored when trying to talk. Was I the only one convinced they must be adopted? Apparently not when Taeko recalls questioning, “Why am I being singled out? I must be adopted, I was sure of it, absolutely sure”. It’s an obvious conclusion to come to when you’re not given the same respect and affection as your siblings. Surely there must be some reason for being alienated.

A particular sore topic for me is missed opportunity, or more specifically opportunity missed because my parents saw no value in it. In the film Taeko is contacted to be in a festivals performance after seeing her in a school play, but her disapproving father forbids even considering the offer.  If unable to explore our interests, how can we ever discover our passions? Well as the youngest we just cant comprehend these things obviously. Our thoughts are just branded childish and unrealistic. In another scene Taeko’s delight in her essay being put on the wall by a teacher is quickly shot down by her mother who is more concerned that Taeko has not eaten all her lunch, expressing, “I think it would be a whole lot better if you were a girl who ate what she’s given, instead of a girl who’s essays are just a little bit better than everyone else’s”. It is this kind of dialogue that discourages children from following their interests, and contributes to feelings of inadequacy.

But from feelings of alienation, and estranged family comes a story of self-discovery and acceptance. Our early experiences don’t just inform our outlook on life, but our character and behavior. I guess this film has helped me come to understand my past does not dictate my life, and thankfully nor does my overbearing family anymore.

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