Movie Review: My Neighbors the Yamadas
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a 1999 Studio Ghibli movie directed by Isao Takahata, the director of Grave of the Fireflies. This movie is supposed to be about an average Japanese family navigating the struggles and frustrations of everyday life. As someone who generally enjoys the Slice of Life genre, I expected to be thoroughly entertained, but unfortunately I just found My Neighbors the Yamadas painfully boring.
I try not to rate anime on any sort of numerical scale when writing my reviews, but this one would definitely be scored pretty dang low. It took me two tries to watch this movie, and the second time it took me about three days to actually finish it. I was surprised, because I generally like Isao Takahata’s work.
Firstly, the animation style is a bit odd; the film is allegedly supposed to be reminiscent of a comic strip, both in the character design and the episodic scenes that made up the entire film. But I really just did not enjoy looking at it. It reminded me of early 2000s Western cartoons; simple shapes for heads, and very little detail. This is obviously a stylistic choice and doesn’t necessarily make a film ‘bad’, but in my opinion the story just wasn’t strong enough to carry such a unique art style. I will say, however, that some of the more detailed animated scenes were extremely well done and beautiful to look at. I just had difficulty with the character design.
The Tale of Princess Kaguya is another Studio Ghibli movie told in a simpler, more sketchy animation style, but for some reason I found that one more appealing to watch; this may have just been because the story was stronger. Kaguya was also directed by Isao Takahata.
Secondly, I kind of felt like the family were all huge assholes? I understand that the point was to show an average family bickering and being flawed, but at times it was difficult to root for them and I just found myself being annoyed by their antics. They were all just downright rude to each other and sometimes others, and while I know that families bicker and fight it was unpleasant to watch, especially considering there was no actual plot and their bickering was the only thing that was happening.
The film did have some nice commentary on unconditional familial love and the difficulty of marriage, and there were certainly wholesome and funny moments that had me laughing and smiling. My favorite part of the whole movie was when the grandma tried to convince a scary thug revving a motorcycle outside their home to become a local hero by using his loud voice and commandeering personality for good. It definitely wasn’t all bad, but those funny scenes were few and far between and definitely not worth the other 80% of the film where I was essentially forcing myself to continue watching.
If anyone is looking for a more appealing family-based Slice of Life, I’d highly recommend Only Yesterday (1991), another Studio Ghibli film that isn’t very well known. It felt a lot more relatable and genuine, and has a slightly more palatable art style. Oddly enough, it was also directed by Takahata.
Despite my complaints, I would still say give it a shot if you’re interested. My Neighbors the Yamadas definitely isn’t objectively bad, it just didn’t really align with my personal tastes. I can honestly see why a lot of people would like it. It’s just not for me!
Thanks for reading,
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“I previously thought that I would really want to use this kind of line drawing style in my work, no matter what work I did next. So even if I had done some other topic, I would have used this style as well. I had been thinking that cel animation uses some line drawing, but actual line drawing hasn’t been fully expressed in cel animation, and things have progressed more and more toward the 3D format, and I still think that it’s very worthy to have hand-drawn lines. Of course I think there are very good works that are done in 3D such as Toy Story 1 and 2, which I think are wonderfully done, but I really dislike 3D movement, so I wanted to focus on the lines”
The late Isao Takahata on the focus of hand-drawn lines in his 2013 film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which turned out to be his final Directorial work solely under the Ghibli umbrella.
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