REVIEW: My Neighbors the Yamadas (1999)

This Studio Ghibli joint is often described as the studio’s own version of a cartoon sitcom. The story follows a family of bears living in a house in the middle of suburban Japan, as the father leaves for work in the morning, the mother takes the school-aged children to school, and the two girls get into mischief with their boy next-door neighbor. It’s a fun set-up that feels familiar, and the movie takes full advantage of the format to create some hilarious situations.

As with many animes, the story of My Neighbors the Yamadas is both simple and complex; it spans a mere 24 episodes, many of which are only a few minutes in length. The plot can be summed up easily: the title family consists of a father, an eager-to-please mother, a son who’s a bit of a daydreamer, an exceptionally old grandmother, a daughter with an unusually large forehead, and a dog. Their neighbors also have a major role in the story.

CHECK : My Neighbours Yamada (1999)

Anime

word-image-5307 OPINION: I’m going to skip Princess Mononoke from the Studio Ghibli series because I’ve already rewatched it, which you can find here. My Neighbors Yamada is an unusual film, both for Studio Ghibli and in general. Most of his films are either fantastical or mundane, exploring magical worlds or the everyday lives of ordinary people. My Yamada Neighbors is somewhere in between and tells the misadventures of an ordinary modern Japanese family, but with a twist. The film distinguishes itself from the work of the studio, animation and the film medium through its frenzied animation style and its combination of simple life situations with magical realism. Isao Takahata’s filmography is very interesting, he seems to have fewer themes than Miyazaki. My Neighbors Yamadas is a perfect example. Where did this film come from? After thoughtful films like Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poco, a quirky comedy like My Neighbors Yamadas seemed to come out of nowhere. My Neighbors Yamada is a movie I’ve never seen; in fact, I once turned down the chance to see it because of the animation aspect. So I have no nostalgia or expectations. Let’s see. Yamada’s My Neighbors has no plot in the traditional sense, but that doesn’t stop it from telling a story. The Yamadas are an eccentric but lovable family caught up in all sorts of misadventures in modern Japan. Takashi’s father (Jim Belushi) has a job and enjoys playing pachinko and baseball with his son Noboru (Daryl Sabara). Matsuko’s mother (Molly Shannon) stays home, does the laundry and cooks with the help of her grandmother Shige (Tress McNeil). Takashi and Matsuko’s daughter, Nonoko, is the baby of the family and plays mostly a comedic role, but is sometimes involved in her own machinations. Whether it’s mundane tasks like grocery shopping, dealing with teenage bullies, or magic balloon tricks, the Yamadas take on any challenge together. word-image-5309 Like many Studio Ghibli films, My Neighbours Yamada benefits from an impressive cast of actors for the English dubbing. Jim Belushi is funny as Takashi, who usually reluctantly participates in the family’s antics. He usually looks angry, but not in a mean way. He looks a lot like the father from the sitcom, only less crazy. In fact, I think that describes the whole movie well. The various short scenes are quite humorous and give the film a sitcom feel, telling the story of this crazy but harmless family. Molly Shannon is very good in the role of Matsuko. Matsuko is a well-meaning and caring wife and mother who can also be lazy and demanding. Tress McNeil is probably my favorite as Shige, Noboru and Nonoko’s grandmother. She’s old and tired, but she’s the one causing the most trouble. She gets into a fight with bikers (and unexpectedly ends it), gossips about her hospitalized friends, and argues with Takashi about who owns the land her house sits on. Noboru wishes his parents were cooler, because he thinks he would be too. He has trouble communicating with his classmates (mostly women) and his interest in Formula 1 strikes his mother as odd, who wants him to learn more. word-image-5310 The personalities and relationships between the Yamada family members are completely believable and realistic, and that is the film’s greatest strength. There is nothing in this film that is thought-provoking or unnerving, but the honest portrait of a modern, everyday family has value. Episodes like the motorcycle confrontation and the balloon finale also offer some tonal and stylistic variety. When Takashi first encounters reckless bikers, the animation style changes dramatically. The minimalist, chibi look of the film has been replaced with a darker look that complements the music and suspenseful dialogues. The finale, in which the Yamadas take off in a hot air balloon, has a strong surrealistic touch and ends the film on an emotional note. Personally, I don’t like light sitcom-style comedies. At times, the tone of My Neighbors Yamada is reminiscent of Pom Poco, but that film had a stronger storyline. It was also more balanced, juggling the amusing antics of an impatient tanuki with the threat of development and total extermination. My Yamada Neighbors is a good movie, which I enjoyed very much, but it’s not a movie I’ll watch often. word-image-5311 As I said before, My Neighbors the Yamadas has a very distinctive drawing style. None of the other Studio Ghibli films are like this, and I’ve never seen a film like this. The characters remind me of the Chibi shorts from Avatar: The Last Airbender DVDs. The entertainment itself is simple but very nice, with attention to the trees and simple details such as crockery and furniture. I prefer the more traditional look of films like Porco Rosso and The Whispering Heart, but I admire Takahata and his team for creating something unique. I think there is room for all kinds of entertainment, and as they say, variety is the spice of life. It’s not my preference, but if you watch as much animation as I do, it’s nice to see spreads like My Neighbors Yamadas every now and then. The film’s original music, created by Akiko Yano, is simply delightful. It’s light and playful, which fits perfectly with the visual language of the film and the narrative style of the vignettes. Several original songs are played during the film, as well as a cover of Que Será, Será, performed by the characters themselves. The quality of the songs is very different. Some will be performed by the Ghibli Women’s Choir, while others will be performed by various artists. But none of this detracts from the events we see on screen, so I’d say they serve their purpose. Overall, I thought the movie My Neighbors Yamada was good, but not great. The animation, music and brutally honest portrait of an ordinary modern family create a film unlike any other. My Neighbors Yamada is probably in the lower middle of my Ghibli ratings, but it’s a unique experience and I’m glad I saw it.

Location – 6
Actor – 10
Control/Correction – 7.5
Music/Sound – 7.5
Animation/comedy – 7

7.6

Good

I liked the movie My Neighbors Yamada, but I didn’t think it was good. The animation, music and brutally honest portrait of an ordinary modern family create a film unlike any other. My Neighbors Yamada is probably in the lower middle of my Ghibli ratings, but it’s a unique experience and I’m glad I saw it.

This Studio Ghibli joint is often described as the studio’s own version of a cartoon sitcom. The story follows a family of bears living in a house in the middle of suburban Japan, as the father leaves for work in the morning, the mother takes the school-aged children to school, and the two girls get into mischief with their boy next-door neighbor. It’s a fun set-up that feels familiar, and the movie takes full advantage of the format to create some hilarious situations.

As with many animes, the story of My Neighbors the Yamadas is both simple and complex; it spans a mere 24 episodes, many of which are only a few minutes in length. The plot can be summed up easily: the title family consists of a father, an eager-to-please mother, a son who’s a bit of a daydreamer, an exceptionally old grandmother, a daughter with an unusually large forehead, and a dog. Their neighbors also have a major role in the story.

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