Isao TakahataJapanese
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Also known as: Houhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun
Medium: film
Year: 1999
Writer/director: Isao Takahata
Original creator: Hisaichi Ishii
Actor: Hayato Isobata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno, Touru Masuoka, Yukiji Asaoka, Akiko Yano
Keywords: anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: 104 minutes
Website category: Anime 1990s
Review date: 20 February 2019
It's a really un-Ghibli-ish Ghibli film. It's so different, in fact, that it disappointed at the box office and you'll see people talking rubbish about how its art style makes it unmarketable. They're wrong, of course. It looks great. I love its look. What makes it unmarketable is the fact that it's not even pretending to have a story. It's the kind of material that's normally adapted into three-minute episodes and you'd know without having to look it up that it's based on a four-panel comedy manga.
I liked it, but it goes on a bit. I took a break at the hour mark. I suspect it might work better if you watch it in chunks, effectively converting it back into that short-form TV series I was talking about. That said, Natsuki was in the room and spent quite a lot of time watching it, saying afterwards that he'd enjoyed the film.
The Yamadas are an unremarkable Japanese family. (No neighbours. Dunno what that bit of the title has to do with anything.) Mum and Dad are built like concrete bollards and have a teenage boy and a seven-year-old daughter. Granny lives with them too. It's implied (by Granny) that the family isn't greatly blessed with brains or looks, but they're happy and funny. They do relatable stuff like forgetting things in the morning, fighting TV remote control duels and having imperfect logic when it comes to parental superiority. My favourite episode was the one where the daughter got left behind at the mall and was so unfazed that she started helping another lost child. She doesn't think she's lost, you see. She thinks all her family got lost instead.
The art style's not what you'd expect. It looks like a bunch of half-arsed scribbles, but in a cool way. (If you're expecting the usual luscious detail... uh, no.) Ironically, though, Ghibli used lots of computer-assisted animation and invented new techniques to make it look like watercolours, which led to insane delays and production costs.
There are fantasy sequences, which feel normal and appropriate in this freewheeling art style. It's fleeting and not to be taken seriously. Mum and Dad bobsleigh down their own wedding cake, find babies in cabbages and see an army of baby-delivering storks flying overhead. Tables and carpets fly quite often. There's a giant snail in the city, a bathyscape dive and a pirate ship. (One fantasy sequence is even doing the Japanese superhero Gekko Kamen, complete with theme tune. I recognised it because of Go Nagai's dirty Kekko Kamen parody version.)
In the end, against all expectation, the film turns out to have been about something. Dad delivers an improvised speech at someone's wedding (no thanks to Mum) and talks about what makes a harmonious family. It's nice. I'm fond of this film, but I don't see much point in sitting through the whole thing all at once. Watch it in bits. You'll enjoy it better that way. Light, charming material like this isn't well served by making it an endurance test.