Reviewby Luke Carroll,
My Neighbors the Yamadas
Experience life's little victories with the Yamadas!
Join in the adventures of the quirky Yamada family -- from the hilarious to the touching -- brilliantly presented in a unique, visually striking comic strip style. Takashi Yamada and his wacky wife Matsuko, who has no talent for housework, navigate their way through the ups and downs of work, marriage, and family life with a sharp-tongued grandmother who lives with them, a teenage son who wishes he had cooler parents, and a pesty daughter whose loud voice is unusual for someone so small. Even the family dog has issues! Experience the little victories in life with MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS -- featuring the voice talents of comedic stars Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon.
Like a guy wearing a red shirt in a sea of blue, many companies have a title or two buried in their past that certainly don't follow the trend they have become known for. These titles aren't necessarily bad because of it, but they do clearly stand out like a sore thumb against their brethren when lined up side by side. For Studio Ghibli that title is without a doubt My Neighbors the Yamadas.
Before I go on, I think it's best if I clear things up a bit. My Neighbors the Yamadas is not a terrible title at all. In fact it's a rather enjoyable little movie once you settle into the groove of things. However when you line it up against everything else Studio Ghibli has produced it does raise an eyebrow. Why might you wonder? Well if you haven't taken a look at the cover yet now might be the time. That and the life-like fantasy world Studio Ghibli creates for its titles is completely non-existent, replaced instead with a present modern suburban setting.
That doesn't mean The Magic Touch Ghibli puts on things isn't there. It's almost quite the opposite actually. You see, the Yamadas are very much a normal Japanese family. There's the husband Takashi and his wife Matsuko, their two children Noburo and Nonoko, and their Grandma Shige and pet dog Pochi. They however face some rather abnormal yet realistic situations; leaving their daughter behind in a shopping centre, trying to stand up to a noisy motorcycle gang and even the age old problem of tricking someone into cooking a meal for you because you are too lazy to.
All of this is delivered with a water-coloured animation style that stands out to say the least. Whether that's for the good or bad is very much personal opinion. In following it's comic heritage, the character art is a very basic affair. Bodies aren't proportional and the amount of detail is laughable at times. The background art isn't any better either, with many scenes featuring nothing at all besides a two tone water-colour effect. Due to this though, My Neighbors the Yamadas doesn't really put the Blu-ray format to the test. Other than shaper more detailed lines, there isn't much to separate it from the DVD release.
On the audio side of things, we are given DTS-HD 5.1 tracks for both the Japanese and English tracks. Beyond a few dream-like sequences, the audio isn't really explored at all. The soundtrack by Akiko Yano is also very much hidden away in the film at times, generally popping its head in during the more lengthy shorts. It all works together though. On a side note, the Blu-ray release oddly lacks a 'signs' subtitle track for the occasional chapter title screen that appears during the film.
As with Madman's other Blu-ray releases of the Ghibli collection, there have been quite a few more extras added to this release over the DVD original. Included on the disc is the Original Japanese trailers, a number of TV spots, an NTV Special program that covers the production process, Storyboards, and finally a Behind the Microphone short that talks about the dubbing process. The NTV Special program is certainly the most interesting of them all, covering everything from production meetings, recording sessions, and even interviews with Takahata and Miyazaki, it is almost worth the price of admission alone.
My Neighbors the Yamadas will always be a tougher sell than most of Studio Ghibli's other titles. It's design, although unique, is very hard to market to any demographic. Unfortunately this means that much of the public wont even know it existed, despite it being released between two of the studio's greatest successes. The Yamadas is certainly geared for lovers of Ghibli's works, however if you give it some time, the zany comical family might just win you over.
© 1999 Hisaichi Ishii - Hatake Jimusho – GNHB
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Hits the funny mark often, the odd animation style actually works well.
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