a.k.a. Houhokekyo Tonari no Yamada-kun
From the outside, the Yamadas are your typical Japanese family. There is Takashi (your archetypal Japanese businessman), Matsuko (the polite housewife), Shige (the caring grandmother), Noboru and Nonoko (the happy children) and Pochi (the family dog). Just your everyday family, right? Wrong! The Yamadas fight and bicker over seemingly random nonsense… but that’s what being a family is really all about.
summary by Kain
Highs: Extremely funny look at ordinary family life; what’s not to like?
Lows: A little too long
My Neighbors the Yamadas is Takahata Isao‘s most irreverent anime to date… and by far Studio Ghibli’s most hilarious. Anyone familiar with Takahata’s other works (Grave of the Fireflies, Pom Poko, Only Yesterday) may raise an eyebrow at the thought of pairing a director, whose résumé is filled with realistic dramas, with a comedic script. On the contrary, there could not have been a better marriage in anime.
Based on the serialized manga strip by Ishii Hisaichi titled Tonari no Yamada-kun, the anime is a series of short vignettes about the daily life of the Yamada clan. Probably the first feature that everyone will notice that differs from other Ghibli anime is the artwork, which is transferred directly from the manga. Drawn in a simple, sketch style with a watercolor wash (a note that may surprise some people: this manga effect was made possible entirely through the use of computers), some viewers may see this as “cheap” or even “substandard”. The fact of the matter is, no other animation style would have even come as close to bringing out the warmth and hilarity that makes this anime a winner.
What makes My Neighbors the Yamadas work on so many levels is that it pokes fun at a typical Japanese family performing the most prosaic of tasks: preparing dinner, waking up for school, calling in sick, studying, fighting over the remote (this sequence had me rolling!), shopping at the mall and giving a congratulation speech at a friend’s wedding. An analogy for Western viewers: this is the Seinfeld of anime. One-liners abound throughout the dialogue, complete with facial expressions to match.
Aside from the pacing which lagged during certain parts of the movie, My Neighbors the Yamadas is proof that the old man can still learn new tricks. Words to live by: remember, when preparing beef stroganoff, the beef stroganoga is just the strogaffgaff of beef. Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense to me, neither, but that’s the whole point.
Highs: Hilarious look at everyday life; lovable cast of real characters; beautiful message
Lows: The presentation might not appeal to some
Initially, this movie didn’t seem very appealing: Unlike in previous anime by Takahata, My Neighbors the Yamadas has no tear-jerking dramas, complex social themes or even a concise storyline to follow. It’s nothing more than a simple, lighthearted comedy made up of several relatively independent vignettes… and is a brilliant, unforgettable movie.
In My Neighbors the Yamadas, there are no princesses to save, no worlds to protect, no evils to vanquish… just an ordinary family living an ordinary life. And there lies the whole beauty of it. Through the eyes of the Yamada clan, even the most mundane tasks like buying bread, studying for school or watching television become a hilarious adventure that manages to poke fun and make a charming homage to families all over the world. Emotive messages about what a family is about are perfectly mixed with the nonstop jocose comedy, making for a heartwarming, cheery combination.
The animation seems simple and even crude compared to other Ghibli works. However, as the movie progresses, it becomes noticeable how the style fits like a glove, is very well done and surprisingly pleasant to look at. The only problem that this movie presents lies in its format: while I loved every minute of it, the segmented sketches system used won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, and the impact of the comedy probably will depend heavily on the family life of the viewer. Some people might not find it as funny and moving as others.
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a movie for the whole family. Invite your children, parents or grandparents to see it. This anime becomes infinitely more enjoyable when watching it with the people close to you. As the credits start to roll, it’ll be hard to refrain from singing Que será, será… whatever will be, will be…
My Neighbors the Yamadas can be downloaded legally in the United States HERE.