In the last of a bunch of anime films to be covered in this current block, we return to the great Studio Ghibli for one of their more innovative outings.
Released in 1999, My Neighbours the Yamadas was directed by Isao Takahata, whose previous Ghibli films include Grave of the Fireflies (No. 40) and Pom Poko (No. 41), and whom we also covered a few weeks ago with his debut film The Little Norse Prince (No. 102). This movie is a light hearted comedy based on a 4-panel comic strip by Hisaichi Ishii, and thus presented as a series of short sketches. It is however most noted for being the first Ghibli film to be made entirely digitally.
The movie follows the everyday lives of the Yamada family: five-year-old girl Nonoko; her 13-year-old brother Noboru; their father and mother Takashi and Matsuko; Matsuko’s mother and the children’s grandmother Shige; and the family dog Pochi. The film is split into various individual stories, much like that of the original comic it is based on, which tend to be everyday scrapes. For example, there is a story about the family panicking that Nonoko has been abducted by someone. Another sees Noboru attempting to by an adult magazine.
Many of the stories are about the adults in the family. For example, Matsuko tries to do her housework, but often fails in some way and so Shige has to come in to prove that she is more capable than her daughter. Also there are minor battles between Matsuko and Takashi, such as trying to gain control of the TV.
The story not only features the everyday, but also fantasy sequences. For example, one story sees the adults of the family trying to scare away a biker gang. Takashi tries at first, but it is the women, especially Shige, who end up finishing the job successfully. This leads to Takashi dreaming of being a brave superhero biker saving Matsuko and Shige instead.
The film is full of sequences that most people can related to, whether it is work, school or simple family life. However, My Neighbours the Yamadas is mostly famous for the production. The movie is stylised to look like a hand-drawn comic, like the work it is based on. Because of this, rather than using typical animation cels, he used computers, thus making this the first Ghibli film to be made entirely digitally.
Sadly however, the film was not as successful as most Ghibli films. This may be the reason by Takahata did not make another film for another 14 years. His latest film, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, is also made to look like it was hand-drawn, but unlike My Neighbours the Yamadas, this film really is hand-drawn. The Tale of the Princess Kaguya has been much more successful, and was also nominated for an Oscar.
However, My Neighbours the Yamadas is still an entertaining and funny film in its own right. You should find there are moments to laugh with all the way through it. Also, the style of the film would later become the basis of another, greater film, so it is an important stepping stone in terms of Studio Ghibli’s history.
My Neighbours the Yamadas is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Studio Canal.