Omohide Poroporo (おもひでぽろぽろ) was Isao Takahata’s second official feature film at Ghibli, released in 1991, three years after Grave of the Fireflies. The official English Title is “Only Yesterday”, but a somewhat literal translation of the title would be more like “Memories fall like raindrops”. Omohide is the old spelling of omoide – memories – which is, as you’ve likely noticed, is the name of this blog. Sometimes readers would ask me if I had misspelled the word when I’d registered the domain. The answer is, of course, that the name is a reference to this film’s title. Omohide Poroporo is one of the least known Ghibli films, partly because it is not a Miyazaki film, and partly because it’s content is fairly distinct among both Ghibli and animated films as a whole. With such excellent films to compete with, Omohide may not be among the clear best of the Ghibli film collection, but it is certainly among the most unique in the wistful nostalgia it presents, and is a very worthwhile film.
The year is 1982, and 27 year old Taeko works in Tokyo and lives alone. She takes a ten day vacation to visit her relatives in rural Japan, hoping to get away from her city life and experience something different in the countryside, by living and working there. As she travels, she begins to recall memories of herself as a young, bold, and curious ten year old fifth grader in 1966. The film proceeds on, alternating between Takeo in her new town and Taeko as a young girl. The 27 year old Taeko is brought into the company of an enthusiastic young farmer who loves his job and loves the country. She learns the ropes of harvesting and farming, and basks in the simple rural life, free of cars, buildings, and noise. Meanwhile, we see the ten year old Taeko in grade school, being scolded by her family for her poor math grades, chasing a faint dream of acting that is crushed by her father, overhearing her mother complaining about her to her sisters. In the early portion of the film, we wonder, in the back of our minds, how the young, rambunctious girl we first see could possibly have grown into the office-bound Takeo as we see her now. By the end, we can easily imagine how her life has gradually been shaped into the person we see in front of us.
The essential charm of the film is simply how much of it rings true to the average viewer. Although this applies in a more vague sense to the scenes with the grown-up Taeko, where it is particularly true is for those of her as a child. I’d be surprised if anyone watched this film without feeling at least one tinge of recognition at a certain behavior or attitude exhibited by the young Taeko. Naturally, there are certain specifics about being a young girl that not everyone in the audience will be able to relate with, but that is just whats on the surface. Underneath are reactions, fears, and emotions that are so genuine and so familiar. It might seem as if I am making the same sort of “chilhood” evocations as I did with Totoro, but I mean something quite different with Omohide. Totoro rekindles the childlike spirit and imagination in its older audiences, whereas Omohide Poroporo wants you to examine these scenes as someone who has left childhood and are now looking back. We look at these childhood scenes and feel a sense of nostalgia and recognition as we would do when looking over our own.
And that is one important thing about Omohide Poroporo. Many Ghibli films – except for perhaps Takahata’s first film – are true family films that children will enjoy but which adults can also glean a deeper enjoyment and satisfaction from – in fact, I would say this is almost a defining quality of the studio. Omohide, however, is a film that I would say is specifically for older viewers and has relatively little appeal for younger audiences. The entire film targets adult sensibilities, and evokes a response from a very adult wistfulness about childhood. And that’s really a joy.
Some will argue that Omohide Poroporo could have easily been a live-action film and it’s animated medium doesn’t contribute anything of note. For one thing, this misses the point that directors like Miyazaki and Takahata want to stress, whicih is their wish to promote animation as a form of storytelling as valid and robust as any other. But ignoring that, I would argue that Omohide makes use of animation in many important ways, though less obvious than a typical Disney film. Notice, for example, how the art style and colouring changes when we move to Taeko’s recollections of childhood – the colors look a little more washed out, the fringes of the frame begin to fade, and the character design is simplified. And similar to Whisper of the Heart, there are moments where fantasy – the fantasy of young Taeko’s mind – merges with reality in a way that just wouldn’t work in a live-action film – the very last scene in particular that is a great example.
There are many English-speaking Ghibli fans disgruntled by Disney’s refusal to release the film, despite the fact that it is included in the deal which gives them rights over several Ghibli films. Many theories have been proposed as to why they are slacking on it’s release, but I think that the reason is quite obvious. Disney markets animated films for children, and Omohide Poroporo contains no elements of much enjoyment to younger audiences. Furthermore, topics like menstruation are brought up – topics which Disney doesn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.
What else to say? Omohide Poroporo isn’t the kind of film that demands long speeches. It’s a quiet, honest, and simple film, one of the classics of Studio Ghibli, and certainly one of the most unique of the entire collection. With Grave and Omohide, Isao Takahata proves himself to be a perfect complement to the more popular Miyazaki. The kind of films they create are quite different, but both approaches are satisfying and equally important. Takahata has always been something of an underrated but brilliant director, and Omohide Poroporo, though not among my absolute favourites, is a charming work nonetheless.
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