Genre: Comedy / Slice Of Life
Version reviewed: Japanese Subtitled
Date of Review: 29 Sep 2008
Ghibli goes experimental… with sketch comedy?
Meet the Yamadas. They’re your typical dysfunctional Japanese family. This is their life.
That’s really it! Studio Ghibli, best known for its sweeping epics, completely defies expectations and delivers another stunning film… about nothing! Isao Takahata helms this assembly of what can best be described as sketch comedy. Short vignettes explore various parts of the lives of the Yamadas. The family is comprised of Mr and Mrs Yamada, their son and daughter, and grandma. Each of the five gets a bit of the focus as the film progresses, so we see how each part of the family deals with all of the situations that arise. There is no overall narrative, though there is a theme which flows through the film which is described very well by the characters by the conclusion. Interspersed throughout the film are Japanese proverbs which help to describe some of the happenings, and they bring some surprising depth to an otherwise straightforward comedy.
You can’t talk about My Neighbors The Yamadas without talking about its animation style. It is unique in the Ghibli canon, and looks nothing like what one would expect from this studio. This film is animated in a minimalist low-frame-rate comic book style, and appears to be done largely in watercolor. It certainly looks low-budget at first glance, but this is Ghibli, so attention to detail is still a priority here. For all of its simplicity, it is also elegant. This visual style complements the narrative style perfectly. Of note is one particularly dramatic scene which takes this animation style one step further, and actually reminds me of the a-ha music video for the song “Take On Me”. The change in style works for the tone of the scene, and sets it in contrast to the lightheartedness which makes up the majority of the film.
And there you have it. My Neighbors The Yamadas is one of a kind in the Ghibli catalog and further shows the depth of their ability to create films of any kind. From fantasy epics to childhood wonder, don’t forget to add sketch comedy to the list of accomplishments from this Japanese powerhouse.