The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

My Neighbors the Yamadas

Title: My Neighbors the Yamadas aka Houhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun
Genre: Comedy
Company: Studio Ghibli
Format: Movie; 104 minutes.
Dates: 17 Jul 1999

Synopsis: The Yamadas, Takashi and Matsuko, have been married for more than twenty years and in that time have settled into a comfortable pattern of life. The family of five,  including their daughter, Nonoko, their son, Noboru, and Matsuko’s mother Shige, live together in a sort of resigned harmony and take life as it comes.

The Highlights
Art Style: Cartoony and completely unlike any other Ghibli production, but still expressive.
Humour: Genuine and true to life.
Pacing: Loses steam and drags in the second half.
Story: The everyday lives of a typical family.

My Neighbors the Yamadas is a study on family. Near the beginning of the film, an elderly lady gives advice to the newly married Takashi and Matsuko. She tells them that during tough times it’s necessary to depend on each other, but that the harder trial of marriage is when the seas are calm and it’s easy to drift apart and lose direction. Being together in these calm periods is what My Neighbors the Yamadas is all about.

The film does not look at all like a typical Ghibli production. The characters are drawn simply, with minimal backgrounds and soft pastel colours. That is not to say the animation is without detail, however, as the subtle movements and facial expressions of the characters are essential in transmitting the humour of their everyday interactions.

It is this humour that makes My Neighbors the Yamadas so charming. The film takes a cynical yet loving and accepting perspective on family life, never taking itself too seriously. Each scenario the Yamadas find themselves in, whether leaving a child at the mall or eating noodles for the fourth day in a row, feels familiar, as if it was salvaged and adapted from our own memories. The characters, simple as they are, feel real and relatable while the ideas presented about the nature of family and the inherent ridiculousness of life are universal.

The challenge this film faces is in sustaining interest despite its lack of an overreaching plot. It is, essentially, a series of short stories centred on a central theme. As funny and enjoyable as these tales are, they start to drag by the halfway point. It doesn’t help that the second half also features the longer and more serious segments. The film is based off of a four-panel manga series, a format that doesn’t lend itself well to a feature length adaptation. Perhaps the material would have been better suited as a series of shorts. For some, I would even recommend watching the film in chapters rather than all at once in order to keep it fresh.

Despite its format, it’s easy to see why director Takahata Isao would have been drawn to this manga since it reflects his pet themes of family and simple living. Most of the segments in the film close with haikus by Basho or another Japanese poets that speak to the little patterns that make life interesting. The story concludes with the whole family singing Que Sera Sera, a song that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the film.

My Neighbors the Yamadas has always stood out as the most atypical of the Ghibli repertoire due to its style of visuals and storytelling. It’s a departure from the norm that allows us to step outside our own box to reflect on that which we take for granted and enjoy the laughs that come along with this new perspective.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Kaikyaku

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