This is a movie that accurately captures feelings of unachieved dreams, of living a life that your 5th grade self would not feel comfortable with. Bored with her city life in Tokyo, Taeko takes a trip to the country (Yamagata) to visit her sister inlaw. She meets Toshio, and works with him in the countryside where he is a farmer. Toshio is passionate about nature, organic farming, and this captivates Taeko.
The film keeps switching back and forth between our present day Taeko, and her 5th grade self. Her schooldays reflect the day to day ordeal of school social life, and her alienation from her parents. Her two sisters simply study and do well at school. But Taeko seeks a deeper understanding of the material, and finds it more difficult to learn what she needs to by passive acceptance and rote. This is interesting as I was exactly the same at school. She instead prefers to put effort into her own interests, and in going the extra mile in her minor part in a school play she is noticed by a town theatre company and asked to star in thir own production. Sadly her father does not see this as something good for her and prevents her from attending. Her relationship with her father is particularly difficult, as he is a stern and rough man.
The animation is realistic, especially in the facial expressions, although the 5th grade scenes are drawn in a simpler style, perhaps to contrast the simplicity of childhood against modern life. Only Yesterday portrays nicely not just falling in love with another person, but falling in love with another life, as one often does on vacation or when visiting another place. At times Taeko's 5th grade self is right there with adult Taeko in the same scenes, and perhaps this is the theme of the movie: your childhood self is always with you, and always you can judge yourself from those early innocent days, when the realities of adult life were not upon you, and the sky was the limit.