With the future of the famed animation studio in doubt, R.G. picks up his Ghibli retrospective with one of the more forgotten entries.
Who made it?: Isao Takahata (Director/Writer), Seiichiro Ujiie, Takashi Shouji, Toshio Suzuki (Producers), Tokuma Shoten/NTV/Hakuhodo/Buena Vista Home Entertainment.
Who’s in it?: English voice cast – Daryl Sabara, Tress MacNeille, Liliana Mumy, James Belushi, Molly Shannon, David Ogden Stiers.
Tagline: “The ups and downs of life.”
IMDb rating: 7.3/10.
I always thought that Spirited Away came after Princess Mononoke. Ever since I did this marathon, I finally found out that there was another film in between those two gigantic Ghibli releases. My Neighbours the Yamadas is a peculiar animated flick from Isao Takahata in terms of visuals and overall delivery. Until The Tale of Princess Kaguya, he did not helm a directorial seat for Ghibli for fourteen years after this film came out. Heavy on the realism, extreme with its down-to-earth tone, and sprinkled with a sitcom sensibility, Yamadas is an odd and fascinating curiosity piece, and one of Studio Ghibli’s most unique productions.
Based on a four-panel manga called Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii, the film follows the everyday lives of the Yamadas, a family living in contemporary Japan. Their activities are represented by unrelated sketches, flowing like a comic book strip you see on newspapers. Each segment is usually summed-up with a short haiku from famous Japanese poets, particularly Bashō’s works.
Takahata once again utilises his ability to take mundane things and make them charming and entertaining. The family themselves are just like any other that you would see but each have their own set of quirks, which the director takes advantage of to turn a seemingly boring scenario into something funny. Its low-key approach and lack of story is can be a hit-or-miss, depending on your preference. It’s amusing to watch the family go through their daily lives, tackling day-to-day problems, and depending on how good the sketches are, it becomes surprisingly immersive. The segments themselves are quite varied in terms of the tone and outline. The majority are comedic but there are sad and sentimental ones put in between. There are certainly moments where it starts to drag because some of the sketches are either a few seconds long or just bad, and a running time of one hour and forty minutes is a tad too long for this kind of flick.
In terms of its animation, this is the very first film in the Ghibli canon to be produced digitally, with all the drawings done on a computer. The sketchy, water-colour style is incredibly distinct. It looks lazy at first glance but it becomes a lot easier on the eye due to how simple it is, and you will notice subtle mannerisms in the animation, a signature of Takahata. He made sure that the movie looked exactly like Ishii’s manga, and he has done an absolutely bang-up job of that. It looks like a comic strip and it also paces itself as one. The director has a knack for showing a dreamlike version of an ordinary situation or a character’s thought process a la Only Yesterday. These bits are where the animation turns from straightforward to outright spectacular, most particularly in the first ten minutes of the film when a relative advises the newly-wedded Yamadas about married life. Another production note… the soundtrack is just fantastic!
Even though My Neighbours the Yamadas is far from the scale of the other Ghibli productions, its a pleasant change of pace. The different segments, for the most part, are funny and charming, even if there is an odd and unnecessary one once in a while, and I believe that its a worthy watch just for how exceptional the animation is. If you just want a film to relax with, this is definitely something to check out.
I told you, this flick has a damn good soundtrack.
- This is Studio Ghibli’s first 100% digitally animated film.
- The film is based on the newspaper strip comic My Neighbours the Yamadas (renamed Nono-chan in 1997) by Ishii.