"Whatever will be, will be"—this is the mantra of My Neighbors the Yamadas, a charming collection of vignettes that ring true to life itself. This unique Studio Ghibli film revolves around the daily exploits of the Yamadas, your modern, dysfunctional Japanese family. Together, this atypical (yet typical) family navigates the ups and downs of the mundane. Whether it be buying groceries at the supermarket, curling up under a kotatsu, or getting caught in the rain, the Yamadas set a humorous spin on the drudgery of everyday occurrences. Needless to say, it is effortless to relate to the down-to-earth humanity of these characters. I dare you not to smile at the simple honesty of this heartwarming film (if you win, you are one heartless beast).
With distinct observation and empathy, Isao Takahata explores the "male bonding" between father and son, the elation of first love, the wisdom of age, and the drifting apart of family. The film is a compilation of these themes, and depicts them through various metaphors such as a ship battling turbulent waves or a bobsled race atop a wedding cake. Takahata complements these elaborate animated sequences with humble haikus by Edo poet, Basho, creating a bittersweet (mostly sweet) tale of our ties to loved ones.
However, the heart of this film lies in its episodic nature. Family dinners, hectic mornings, and light bickering are all typical moments in the Yamada household. These tedious times reveal the Yamadas’ humility with great subtlety. When Father Yamada fails to coax his family away from the TV or when Grandma Yamada reflects upon the fleeting beauty of the cherry trees, we are reminded of the quiet sadness that remains unspoken in life’s daily routine. Each monotonous moment in the film finds both the depth and humor of family living. While most anime tend to over exaggerate or preach some complex narrative, My Neighbors the Yamadas is a refreshingly downplayed film with easily relatable themes. All in all, My Neighbors the Yamadas is an uplifting tribute to life's simple beauties and banalities, a rare and unique occasion in anime.
Although My Neighbors the Yamadas has no overarching plot, there is no need for one. The scrapbook storytelling Takahata employs creates a stream of memories that depict life with convincing realism. The film is in essence, a photo album, a collection of snapshots; any attempt to create a continuous narrative from them would only weaken their impact. Thus, My Neighbors the Yamadas does not pitch a linear sequence of events, only the satisfying truth that life is NOT a dress rehearsal. I can’t think of a film truer to real life than the daily dance of My Neighbors the Yamadas.
Drawn in a half-scribble, comic strip style, My Neighbors the Yamadas looks more akin to Charles Schulz’s Peanuts rather than mainstream Japanese anime. Notably, the film is the first fully digital movie by Studio Ghibli, incorporating watercolor shading rather than cel pictures. Background panels are half-colored in, bluntly cut off like a chalky pastel on a blank canvas. This creates a soft, authentic storybook feel to both the characters and backdrops. If it were not for the distinctiveness of the animation, one would assume My Neighbors the Yamadas was drawn within the pages of a child’s coloring book. However, the simplicity of the muted art style does not detract from the overall narrative of the film, but harmonizes with its modest tone. Despite its uniqueness, the minimalist art will not appeal to every viewer’s taste.
Both the Japanese and English dub are appropriate and praiseworthy. The voice actors develop distinctly memorable characters with every roundabout conversation and comical retort. On the other hand, the soundtrack is uneventful and bland. The film’s score comprises of either bubbly jingles or Czech Philharmonic symphonies, creating an inconsistent mix of music. The odd toggle between sweeping, classical overtures and late 90’s bebop can be jarring. Only the lyrics to Doris Day’s final thematic piece, "Que Sera Sera", would linger in my mind. In short, the sound aspect of My Neighbors the Yamadas is nothing to write home about.
Meet the Yamadas: there’s Takashi, the family patriarch who struggles to hold the family intact; Matsuko, an endearingly scatterbrained housewife who buys too much ginger; Shige, the sharp-tongued grandmother with wisdom to boot; Noboru, the anxious teenager in the loops of love; and Nonoko, an inquisitive 5-year old whom everyone dotes on. Takahata lovingly crafts these eccentric family members beyond mere household archetypes, presenting both the frustrations of marriage and the complex joys of child-rearing. In effect, this realistic portrayal of skewed family dynamics breathes life into these convincing characters. Moreover, the hilarious interactions between family members create some entertaining dialogue. For example, there is an epic struggle between Takashi and Matsuko for control over that prized possession—the TV remote!
Although My Neighbors the Yamadas dare not break the mold of the traditional Japanese family, their experiences are heartfelt and honest to a fault. These candid moments of familial bonding and breaking all take place within the confines of home—an abode of personal growth and nostalgia. As a result, watching My Neighbors the Yamadas feels like a homecoming in itself—both assuring and awkward with its sympathy and human comedy. More than anything, the film presents an honest message that life is unpredictable and "you have to bear it—you must bear it" in order to survive the challenges that arise. Through the ups, the downs, and the quiet moments in between, Studio Ghibli has created a modest yet poignant collage about taking life as it comes.
Since this Isao Takahata film is purely slice-of-life (a genre which some equate with boredom), I can’t recommend it to everyone. There are no protagonists or antagonists, just your average, run-of-the-mill family living their days to the best of their ability. However, I have never seen an anime quite this frank and sincere. Clocking in at an hour and a half, this slow-paced film will surely resonate with those who have ever experienced an awkward, yet amusing family get-together. If you can appreciate this light-hearted tale of the mundane, you will discover the extraordinary within the ordinary, earthly lives of the Yamadas…
Hmm, I don’t know how to end this eloquently, so here’s another haiku from Basho:
now then, let's go out
to enjoy the snow...until
I slip and fall!
This is a very different show then what Studio Ghibli has done before, talking more about a regular family and not having a continuing plot. In my mind, this could have been a couple of 15 minute shorts more then a actual movie and it probably would of done a bit better since as I watched, I became very confused. They time skip a lot making it sometimes hard to figure out where we are in the story but then there are things that really don’t need a time too.
The characters really don’t have anything that actually makes them stand out. They are just a generalization of a mother, a father, and family. There really isn’t much that goes in the sense of there own personality and that did really bother me. I wanted some substance in them, not grasping at straws to feel closer to the characters. To me, that really felt boring and it became like me trying to force myself to watch the whole thing. Normally I could actually grasp at someone in the story and relate to them like the older sibling but this one just seemed off.
The art style is very different then Ghibli’s work as well, going for pastel colors and artwork that doesn’t really fill up the whole screen most of the time. In fact, most of the border areas feel like the artwork blends off into white. It feels much like a comic strip art piece like in the paper rather then a full film. It stays mostly in the real world instead of going into any crazy ideas yet in the beginning and end has a sort of surreal look about being a family as they talk about a poem that deals with life. That was the most interesting part to me actually and it was pretty cool that they started out that strong and ended in the same manner although it made me feeling like I wanted more of that then the other real life stuff.
The English voices are really well done, adding to the whole feeling of family but I wouldn’t expect less from Disney when they get their hands on a cute little show like this. Nonoko is a very believable 5 year old and sounds so cute. The show itself takes things rather literal and I believe that is because we are in the mind of this little girl and how she sees her life. The English dub really does add to this idea that we are seeing everything from the 5 year olds aspects. Plus the fact that Nanoko does not show up all that often. There are times that it deals with her but then there are many times that it is only the parents, son, and Grandmother.
The show might have been alright but it really isn’t the best Ghibli film in my opinion. It was slow and very slice of life-ish that it was hard to watch.
It took me two viewings to watch My Neighbors, the Yamadas, the first time flagging after 45 minutes of keeping track of the various loosely-connected vignettes gathered under various disconnected themes. It reminded me so much of The Family Circus, although the Keane family appears a most functional bond of parents and children. The Yamadas, well they’re something else.
I’m not saying that this family is dysfunctional. The humor in this Studio Ghibli gem is hardy Simpsons-esque. The love which holds these five quaint individuals is not easily seen, but it is definite there, deep and abiding. It is just that it is tweaked by a delightful humor which makes one smile as the quick bits and zingy gags zip by. One must watch carefully to sense the wryness of father Takashi, the shrewdness of mother Matsuko, the crankiness of the teen-age son Noboru, the calculating sweetness of kindergarten-age Nonoko, and the scathing wit becoming wisdom of the maternal grandmother Shige.
The color scheme for this presentation, though creative in its use of watercolor shading of backgrounds, was hard on the eyes as you watched the action. Frequent stops to rest the eyes and review the material which rushes by in a willy-nilly sequence. All the themes of family life are there. The rebellion rising in the mind of the adolescent son. The panic family experiences when a child becomes lost. The negotiations (or out-right coup d’états) husband and wife engage in over essential features of life … like TV remotes. The tenuous bond twixt husband and mother-in-law. A young boy slowly falls in love with a girl who first plays him so she might ingratiate herself with another boy. The fantasies Takashi entertains when grandmother shows more courage in facing a motorcycle hoodlum. The tedium of work, whether in the office or household chores. A mosaic of the bits and pieces which gradually set themselves into place as years of love and commitment forge a unit called family.
While the vignettes are scattered and freely joined into this unit, the movie is book-ended with scenes of sage advice. A motet of a young couple moving through a bobsled run onto a storm-tossed boat tossed onto an island where son and daughter are derived from peach and sugar cane. The challenges a family must encounter and overcome in the struggle against the realities which rob life of its sweetness. Then, near the end, Takashi improvises an insightful address to a newly-wedded couple at their reception dinner, all on the same tenets we hear in the opening sequence.
As My Neighbors the Yamadas is a mosaic of scenes in the life of family, so is the background music. Chopin piano pieces, movements from Mozart, Mendelsohn, and Mahler. Sections of episodes interlaced by haikus of Basho (I took in the dubbed version. The haikus were read by David Ogden Stiers). It takes a touch of self-discipline to get through the 104-minute presentation, but once you contemplate all the nuances of Yamada-life, you’ll love the perceptions received.
While Hayao Miyazaki's films are praised by the anime community as legendary works of art you will rarely hear people talk about Isao Takahata. I get it, not everyone enjoys long drawn out conversations about pineapples or enviormental stories about raccoons. His work is an aquired taste. About as slice of life as slice of life gets. Honestly it would be better just to call his films chunks of life and My Neighbors The Yamadas is definitely the chonkiest chunk of life I have ever seen. The story is just an ordinary suburban family doing ordinary suburban family stuff. The unique watercolor art style and fantastic dub voice acting cast takes this cute little anime and makes it an infinitely rewatchable masterpiece. My Neighbors The Yamadas is actually more like a collection of goofy mundane life events involving the Yamadas than your typical story focused Studio Ghibli film. A very abstract, almost dream-like film. Isao Takahata at his best. Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon are an amazing couple and their little family is adorable.
I don't understand why this movie have so average rating ( 3.5 ), while i only been watching anime since last year ( post covid ) its one of the best animated movie that I watched with a great message at last.
I won't say you will get hooked to it but rather quite easy going and relaxing. You won't get bored of it, feel a little fun but also won't like it that much to watch it for more than 15 minues at a time. But still it deserve more than 3.5; i would give it a 4 at least.