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Film Review: My Neighbors the Yamadas
In 1999, Isao Takahata released My Neighbors the Yamadas, based on a Yonkoma manga by Hisaichi Ishii. Starring Touru Masuoka, Yukiji Asaoka, Naomi Uno, Masako Araki, Akiko Yano, and Kosanji Yanagiya with James Belushi, Molly Shannon, Daryl Sabara, Liliana Mumy, Tress MacNeille, and David Ogden Stiers providing English voices, the film grossed $20.5 million at the box office and was awarded the Excellence Award for Animation at the Japan Media Arts Festival.
Follow the daily lives of the Yamada family, Takashi, Matsuko, Noboru, Shige, Nonoko and the dog Pochi through vignettes. The family goes through issues like relationships between each other, the wisdom that comes with age and getting a first girlfriend. But while there’s humor in crossing cultural boundaries with this family, there are also rivalries, such as arguing about television control and their frustrations with each other. Still, even though they may get on each other’s’ nerves, they continue tolove each other
A stark departure from the usual Studio Ghibli style, My Neighbors the Yamadas is pretty decent as a film. One such departure comes in the art style that’s used throughout the film. Where the studio usually presents audiences with a film consisting of an animation style that includes sweeping landscapes, beautiful animation and very round characters, this film doesn’t have any of that. Rather, everything is notably minimalistic. The backgrounds and other pieces of scenery really only show what’s necessary to convey the scene and the family itself are drawn in such a way that makes them look like their daily newspaper comic origins. While it really isn’t a bad thing, it’s pretty jarring especially when expecting something that’s the usual Ghibli fare. It’s also possible that this art style was employed to save money, seeing as this film was produced between Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.
The plot, while enjoyable, is also pretty simple as well. There really isn’t any overarching storyline other than seeing everything that happens to the Yamada family in disconnected segments. It does allow the film to show how much the family loves each other, irritates each other and goes about their daily lives. However, there not being any sort of connecting between the vignettes other than it being a family and presenting their lives wears out after a bit of time. Again, it wouldn’t exactly be a bad thing had it been put out by anybody other than Studio Ghibli, a studio that by this point had become well known for bringing about grand overarching stories with plenty of symbolism and meaning. In short, Ghibli’s own reputation did itself a disservice. Further, the film also runs the same amount of time for a standard Ghibli film and the film really gets old after the halfway point. It seems the film really should have been a short film rather than a full feature.
Still though, when the film is conveying the love and connection the family has with each other, it does it spectacularly well. One very notable scene is when Takashi comes into the train station and calls home asking that someone bring him an umbrella. It starts a family-wide argument about who should end up bringing the umbrella and, annoyed, Takashi ends up shouting that he’ll buy one himself. Eventually, he’s on his way home and finds that everyone except Shige has come out to bring the umbrella. The same scene also has Matsuko asking Takashi to buy pork and he refuses to but when he’s buying said umbrella, he ends up changing his mind and buying it. It’s a great scene that shows that being a family is all about giving up the ground you’re on. For the family, it was going out to get Takashi an umbrella and for Takashi, it was getting the pork.
At the same time, the film does bring about some well-done humor. One good moment is seen when the family accidentally leaves Nonoko behind at the mall. Once they realize, they turn around to go get her and end up in a traffic jam. Two points that are funny here are Takashi yelling at all the cars that they need to hurry up because his daughter’s about to get kidnapped as well as Nonoko finding another lost boy and convincing him that talking to strangers is a good thing, which eventually gets both of them found.
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