Written & Directed by Isao Takahata/Produced by Seiichiro Ujiie, Takashi Shouji, & Toshio Suzuki/Music by Akiko Yano/Based on Nono-chan by Hisaichi Ishii
My rating: 3.5 of 5
The Yamada family are rather a peculiar group–certainly not your ideal Japanese family. Mr. Yamada isn’t nearly as successful and well-viewed as he’d like to imagine. Mrs. Yamada would rather snack and watch daytime TV than keep house–she’s actually a rather atrocious housekeeper. Their son, Noboru, isn’t making the grades his parents expect–but then, he’d probably do better if he studied instead of goofing off. Their little daughter Nonoko is mostly okay, I suppose, although her chatter could get old. And of course, Grandmother Shige oversees the lot of them, raining unasked advice, criticism, and archaic adages aplenty. . . . Actually, maybe they aren’t that different from the rest of us, when it comes down to it. In any case, in spite of their issues, the Yamada family are sure to be united against everything life throws at them.
I have this obsession over Studio Ghibli works–I’m determined to watch every one I can get my hands on. And I must say, My Neighbors the Yamadas is unique among the Ghibli works I’ve seen so far. It’s based on a 4-koma comic strip, and it retains that slice-of-life comedy feel. It’s arranged as a set of vignettes, which follows nicely from the 4-koma style. These vignettes are broken up by more traditional paintings decorated with traditional calligraphy, usually something by Basho or other classic poetry. (It probably says something about the movie as a whole that these divider screens were probably my favorite part of the show.) The art style is extremely different from Ghibli’s typical works, which kind of made me sad since one of the things I love most about Ghibli films is the amazing art that typifies stories such as Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle. Still, the more cartoon-like, pen-and-watercolor style does fit the Yamada family’s story, rather. Probably the best aspect of this movie is the keen observations it makes as to the relations between the Yamada family members. But still, I can definitely say that this was not my favorite Ghibli film; it probably wouldn’t go into my favorite lists at all. I would recommend My Neighbors the Yamadas mostly to folks who enjoy a more comic-strip sort of story (folks who like Peanuts and suchlike), and yes, to other people who obsessively watch all the Ghibli movies just to say they did (but for you, you probably won’t like it particularly; you’ve been warned).