Review: My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

I always know that I’m in for an anime treat if I’m seeing a Studio Ghibli [that’s Ghi-bu-ri] film but even I was completely taken by surprise by My Neighbours the Yamadas. The quality of work here still abides by the high achievement previously set by awe-inspiring films such as Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa, My Neighbour Totoro just to name a few.

OK, the first surprise is the look of the film – simple, yet warm aquarelle/ watercolour washes with minimal colours depicting the scenery and the characters. Who would have thought a few elegant brush strokes here and several dabs of washes could depict so much? From the gorgeous Japanese scenery to everyday Japanese city hustle and bustle, this look serves it very well.

This is a major departure from previous Ghibli efforts [see the ones mentioned above] where each cel was gloriously rendered to technicolour proportions. Even The Yamadas’ director Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies was of that same ilk.

The second surprising fact is that this was all achieved digitally, making it the first Ghibli film to be animated in the computer! However, there are certain scenes where more complex and realistic drawings were used – look out for the vignette where, Shige, the tough as nails grandmother confronts the bikies [!!]

The other surprise about My Neighbours, the Yamadas is the narrative. Devoid of any complex and structured narrative, this film is composed of a series of vignettes about the daily life of the Yamada family – father [Takashi], mother [Matsuko], grandmother [Shige], son [Noboru] and daughter [Nonoko]. The vignettes belies it origins, a popular serialised newspaper comic strip by Ishii Hisaichi.

Watch the Yamadas go shopping and turn it into a dramatic mad-cap afternoon, or regale in the hilarity of Takashi and Matsuko fighting for the remote control. Interspersed, there are sporadic Haiku readings of famous Japanese poems, lending a uniquely traditional Japanese mood to the proceedings. However, you certainly won’t be alienated if you have no understanding of the culture because My Neighbours The Yamadas transcends that – the stories are explored with such moving poignancy and humour that if you’d be hard pressed not to acknowledge the universal heart of the film – of family, love, work, adolescence and life in general!

I could go on and on about its merits – despite the simple look, the vignettes are incredibly meaningful. A brilliant film, a brilliant achievement and I dare say a new benchmark for Studio Ghibli. I feel very lucky to have seen this on the big screen and I think I had a permanent grin fixated on my face the entire time I was watching it.

10 beautiful haikus out of 10.
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