Film Focus: My Neighbours the Yamadas
My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)
Director: Isao Takahata
Starring: Hayato Ishohata, Masako Araki, Naomi Uno
Running Time: 104 mins
Fact: The film is an adaptation of a comic strip by Hisaichi Ishii.
“The reason the Yamadas get along fine is because all three adults are nuts. If one of you were normal it would unbalance the rest.”
-Noboru Yamada – ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’-
Reviewed by Matt Keleher
Many families share a bond that is unique to them. Together they can celebrate life’s milestones, reflect upon a tragedy; be squabbling in one moment and laughing uncontrollably at life’s foibles in the next.
‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ showed me that many of these experiences are universal and although the fictional family live some 6000 miles from my neck of the woods, as I watched the film I found that many of their adventures and experiences resonated with my own.
The film was directed by Isao Takahata (whose work has included acclaimed animated films Pom Poko and Grave of the Fireflies).
The Yamadas are a modern nuclear family living in Tokyo; Takashi Yamada lives with wife Matsuko , their children Noboru and Nonoko, his elderly mother Shige and Pochi – their loyal dog.
The film doesn’t follow a singular plot; instead it comprises a series of vignettes, each capturing one of the many varied experiences of family life, such as father/son bonding, the frenzied panic when a child goes missing during a shopping trip, oversleeping for a business meeting, first loves and heated arguments over who will wash the dishes.
Many of the segments present otherwise conventional scenarios with striking and imaginative visual storytelling. One of the film’s most entertaining sequences chronicles the trials and tribulations of married life – Mr. and Mrs. Yamada push a bobsleigh before hopping on board and are seen racing down the tiers of a huge wedding cake, spurred on a by a crowd of well-wishing wedding guests! They then set out on a voyage at sea; sometimes all is calm, whilst at others they must endure the torrid waves. As the sky fills with storks, they recover two eggs from which their beloved children emerge!
The individual quirks and nuances of each family member emerge early on and viewers will find themselves more endeared to the Yamadas as the film goes on.
The film has a minimalistic, yet charming visual style throughout; it’s computer animated, though stylised to appear hand-sketched. The background at the family home is virtually blank, save for a door here or a piece of furniture there; busy scenes such as city streets and shopping malls are rendered in sporadic detail and washed out in felt-pen colours.
This stylistic choice suggested to me that it was Takahata’s intention to strip each frame to its bare essentials, ensuring the focus is fixed upon the Yamadas and their busy lives, removing any specifically local details and distractions, which could detract from the universality of the stories.
For parents weary of hyperactive CGI searching for a family film that will keep everyone happy, ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ is your jewel in the rough. The film belies its superficially simplistic appearance with plenty of sharp observations, emotional depth, warmth and insight.
Watch the film’s trailer here:
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