Self esteem and Studio Ghibli: How Only Yesterday explores low self esteem

After watching Only Yesterday, a film produced by Studio Ghibli and first released in Japan in 1991, I was struck at how closely the film depicted low self esteem and self image.

Protagonist Taeko is at a crossroads in her life. She cannot grow any further working in a lifeless office job.

Memories from her childhood come back to her, and she wants to make a change, but seemingly is struggling with the self belief needed to strike out on her own, and do something she enjoys.

In this case, self esteem and self image have no room to flourish when an individual feels like an outsider, singled out from the peers, and has no emotional support in divisive and crucial moments.

When this happens repeatedly or with increasing severity it could lead to depression, and other mood disorders.

Content warning: This post contains spoilers for Only Yesterday.

It examines the mental health of a fictional character. It includes moments of ostracism, and some violence. It discusses self esteem and mental health.

If you need support, services like Headspace and Beyond Blue (based in Australia) can provide resources.

Examining some of Taeko’s memories shows how low self esteem, and the resulting low self belief, can come to life.

1. Taeko feels no support for her likes and dislikes from those closest to her.

In an early memory, Taeko’s father brings home a Pineapple. A rare and expensive gift received in his professional life. The family, made up of Father, Mother, two older sisters, a Grandmother, and finally Taeko, sit down to eat the exotic fruit.

When her Father dislikes the taste of real fruit, he takes out a cigarette, clearly preferring the smokey flavour. A cloud of his smoke drifts across the table as Taeko’s sisters remark that Bananas truly are the king of fruit, and that canned Pineapple tastes better (soaked in a sugar preservative, most fruit tastes different).

Taeko says she enjoys real pineapple, but the dissonance is clear on her face. She likes the fruit, but her family does not.

This may be the first time she felt like her likes and dislikes were not worthy, being the youngest with the least power, influence, agency, and self determination in a room of people who disagree with her, even indirectly.

2. Being singled out and criticised unfairly by people Taeko trusts.

Everyone experiences criticism, however when we hear a harsh opinion from a someone close, it can be devastating. In another moment with her family, Taeko overhears her Mother’s extreme dissatisfaction with her mathematics test score. She explicitly says that she thinks there’s something wrong with Taeko. It’s a difficult scene to watch, almost as tough as the next memory.

3. Taeko experiences violence, and experiences contempt from a family member.

A later scene is violent – Taeko’s father slaps her when she steps outside with no shoes on, covering her stockings with dirt. Taeko was angry and feeling emotional at this time, unable to decide if she wanted to stay home, or go out. Her sister had recently treated her with contempt over who owned an enameled purse. Her father may have lashed out from impatience. Either way, Taeko is affected into her adulthood. She forgives her father, but notes that she always questioned why it happened.

4. Taeko feels confusion and fear at starting puberty. Her family is distant and unavailable to support her.

Her school teaches her and all the girls in her class about menstruation. The boys begin to tease Taeko about being on her period. She reacts with anger and fear. Another classmate reassures her that there is nothing to be ashamed of – the crucial point? The classmate was reassured of the natural process of becoming an adult by her mother. Taeko received no such support from her Mother, or even Grandmother.

5. Taeko is snubbed by another student, who refuses to shake her hand when he leaves the school.

A young boy, characterised by his poor family and shabby appearance, assigned to the seat next to Taeko refuses to shake her hand when he leaves to transfer to another school. This simple act crystallises the self esteem points brought up in Only Yesterday.

When discussing the small but powerful act with her new friend Toshio later in the film, he points out that the boy had no power in the classroom. As her assigned Neighbour, interacting with her the most, not shaking her hand was the only power he could assert. The insight here is the reiteration that feeling like an outsider can have powerful corrosive effects on self image and self esteem. In this case, Taeko experienced an anti-social act from a classmate who was also, no doubt, suffering the effects of ostracism.

Eventually, after talking through all of these problems with her new friends, Taeko is able to recover, and change careers.

This is a fitting end for the film, having depicted how acknowledging and talking about her past has help Taeko find the self belief she needs to move forward.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen the film, or are you planning to track it down? Let me know in the comments.


Four horror movies for Halloween 2016

Halloween is approaching, and I watched a few horror movies recently to enjoy the atmosphere of the October. Spoilers follow – be careful about going into the woods.

It doesn’t change into autumn, where I’m from, in early October, but the atmosphere does change a bit, and the nights are still cold.

I saw 4 horror movie recently in the lead up to Halloween 2016. Here’s my thoughts and ideas on them:

The Gallows (2013) Metacritic score of 30 – I thought it was a bit better than 30/100, with some great atmosphere and setting. Definitely suitable for Halloween watching if you don’t mind the found footage genre or unlikeable protagonists.

Back in the early 1990’s a high school put on a play that ended in a terrible accident, but twenty years later, a drama student named Pfeiffer pushes the drama department to try the play again, and maybe try and redeem it.

Unfortunately, the lead actor can’t project, and his best friend is a Jerk. They decided to sneak into school at night to destroy the set and stop the play.

Starting as a found footage movie, this film shifts gear into a supernatural team slasher.

The characters are misanthropic vandals. I didn’t like any of them, but unlikeable protagonists is a big part of some horror films.

Theatres and schools both have a certain chilling atmosphere at night when they’re empty and quiet, and this film certainly delivers on atmosphere. The supernatural special effects are also suitably scary, without relying on jump scares too heavily.

Chernobyl Diaries (2012) Metacritic score of 32 – I thought this was accurate. The film started well, but was not coherent all the way through, with less then memorable characters (Except for Nathan Philips). Not really good Halloween viewing.

A group of daredevil tourists go on an extreme adventure into Chernobyl. Everything goes wrong. Something about zombie mutants.

I completed a cursory search about the film, and it received criticism for disrespect toward those that died in the Chernobyl reactor explosion.

Nathan Philips appears playing adventurous Australian tourist Michael, which was a highlight. Apart from the fighting between Chris and his daredevil brother, and the stoic ex-soldier Yuri, The other characters did not stand out.

The Witches of Eastwick (1987) Metacritic score of 68 – I thought slightly higher than 68/100, this film stars Cher, Jack Nicholson, and Susan Sarandon (several academy award winners). Content warning for some misogyny in the third act of the film. A good movie, regardless if it is Halloween or not.

A film that might be more of a fantasy than a horror movie, the depiction of fantasy elements as a metaphor for relationships turned from full filling to horrendous makes The Witches of Eastwick a thoughtful fantasy.

The phrase “Be careful what you wish for” plays out here, as three women wish for the perfect man, and Jack Nicholson arrives. He may or may not be an incarnation of the devil.

Blair Witch (2016) Metacritic score of 47 – The film largely copies the first film but tinkers around with the perception of time and illusions in the Blair Witch’s forest. A decent Halloween movie, but consider The Blair Witch Project (1994)

I had several problems with Blair Witch.  Overall, scenes with images of trees and scrub bushes rushing past the camera while an actor screams were borrowed directly from The Blair Witch Project. This was a let-down.

Settling into a good, slow build is dropped for this sequel (or soft reboot). The characters are barely in the forest for two nights before the film reaches it’s end. Playing out the long ordeal of being stranded on a interminable camping trip built tension in the first film.

To it’s credit, Blair Witch tinkers the perception of time, adding something to the folklore. Perhaps the force behind the Blair Witch’s forest can create illusions, adjust time, and amend space.

What are some of your Halloween films? Let me know in the comments.

Other Good Movies: The Conjuring, and The Conjuring 2 plus Insidious are both excellent (from Director James Wan). The VVitch is a painstakingly researched New England folktale on witches in the forest, and Cabin in the Woods is great for a more intricate and complex (less scary) Horror film.


Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD Season Four Episode One The Ghost recap and predictions

Spoilers for Season Four, Episode one of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD follow – This information may be classified.

Science and magic are usually in opposition to each other, and agents of SHIELD is bringing opposites together for season four. I’m predicting new villains arriving in season four, and artificial intelligence resurgent

Episode one of season four The Ghost has a burned-out and cagey Daisy still running from the organisation that built up her life, brought her new friends, and put her through more than one struggle for her life and family. And now she has a ghost to deal with.

Leo Fitz’s relationship with Jemma might be stronger, and he may now have a new friend he can related to intellectually, but a new secret is stepping into his life again. Life Decoy Models (LMDs) are designed to protect SHIELD’s agents, but is there a shade of something like Ultron within the program?

Regardless, it’s clear Daisy and Fitz seem to be carrying the greatest emotional weight.

Magic and science collide.

Fitz works ebulliently, yet he is heavy-hearted with a new secret to hold onto, which might distance his relationship with Jemma Simmons.

Holden Radcliffe has a new invention. AIDA stands waiting for orders in Radcliffe’s living room. Fitz has to avert his eyes, since Radcliffe has left her naked, and undressed. It’s a shock to have stepped out of his high-tech, ethical lab working with his partner Simmons, and into a “Weird-science” naked robot lady story.

What’s most interesting about this scene, however, is AIDA’s observation skills.

Switched off, she has her eyes downcast to the floor. There is something alert in her gaze, however. Radcliffe aimed to cross the “Uncanny Valley”, and he seems to have done it. There is  a sadness to AIDA, as she waits to have her voice and agency returned. Something about her is very human.

I predict AIDA might have an issue with Radcliffe and Fitz discussing her fate without her opinion.

Daisy has slipped into the rebillious persona “Quake”, and she is deeply impacted and grieving, still working through the anger of her loss from last season. Can her scientific, serial way of thinking handle a ghost?

Daisy’s pathway through life has involved a lot of serial, procedural, and analytical thinking.

She worked as a compute scientist, a hacker, and a video editor.

She learned about the ritual and procedures of the Inhumans. Terrigen has to be applied in a certain way, and metamorphosis follows a strict process. If Inhuman, grant abilities, and if else, reduce to ashes and dust. Definitely a tough and almost machine-like brutal efficiency.

So when faced with an actual shapeshifter in Ghost Rider, will daisy be able to handle this threat? She thinks procedurally, and serially. Ghost rider seems to shift randomly. Is his power motivated by a concept as nebulous as justice? Or as emotional as vengeance?

I predict Daisy might have encountered something she won’t be able to take on with her current methods and state of mind.

A gaseous woman also appears in the opening episode – could this woman be the villain Vapour AKA Ann Darnell?

Trapped in a box, a mysterious woman who seems to manifest in a gaseous state arrives at the end of the episode to menace Agent May, and her strike team of elite SHIELD agents.

Is this Ann Darnell, of the villain team the U-Foes? Based on teaser information from the next episode, It seems unlikely. Particularly since this character might be wrapped into Fantastic Four copyright, and not available to Marvel Studios.

I predict this character might be a reference to the U-foes, at least, with poisonous gas that can cause hallucinations

Do any of these predictions strike a chord with you? Let me know in the comments where you think Season Four of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD is going.