My Neighbours the Yamadas Review
A little background first. My Neighbours the Yamadas is based on a weekly Manga (comic strip) created by Hisaichi Ishii, which is now into its tenth year of publication in the Japanese Newspaper the 'Asashi Shinbun'. The original Manga simply contains short tales based on the Yamada family (Mother, Father, Teenage Son, Infant Daughter and of course the Grandmother) and the film stays true to its source material and is essentially a series of around 60 humourous vignettes presented as one whole.
In a sense this is not strictly a film, there is no overall storyline that ties together the many different stories presented here, instead, to call this a film you have to accept it as an interpretation of Japanese life (which isn't that far removed from our own life here in the west). However you look at it, Yamadas is a stunning achievement. Isao Takahata (director of the seminal Grave of the Fireflies) somehow manages to take an average families life and make it essential viewing - witness the brutal simplicity of scenes like when the father forgets his umbrella, their teenage son gets his first phone call from a girl and the hilarious channel changing sequence.
The film is consistently funny, I guarantee a smile on your face from start to finish. Scripting and voice acting is outstanding with several scenes (particularly the opening scene where young Nononoko is lost in a shopping mall) that are so simple yet so well crafted it really is a pleasure to watch. The key to this film really is its deceptive simplicity, from the stories told to the superbly crafted script, even the animation itself is deceptively simple but like everything else seen here, there are several layers to explore if you so wish. Take the occasional Haiku's which end certain stories, these are from famous Japanese Poets and whilst the meanings to some are quite obvious, others will require research to truly understand (at least for me!). In another sequence we see the father confront a Motorcycle gang, and it is here for the first time in the film that the animation becomes far more realistic and serious in style, this I believe is because the Bousouzoku (Japanese Motorcycle Gangs) are a very serious problem in Japan so initially the film becomes far more serious in nature, but then the Grandmother steps in to lighten the tone and immediately we are back to the traditional 'animated manga' look of things.
I really could rave on and on about this film - it was the first release seen in the new Stubio Ghibli DVD Collection and also the Studios most recent cinematic release (for which they must be applauded for, Disney wouldn't touch something like this in the US) yet it is also one of Studio Ghibli's most accomplished films. The originality of the release is breathtaking, the animation in places can also be quite outstanding (note the fantasy sequences) despite its initial basic look, and of course the often overlooked scoring of a feature is also something I must commend, Akiki Yano has done an outstanding job by creating several themes which I guarantee you'll be humming many days after watching this modern classic.
This Japanese Release was can be imported from various stores, including site affiliate YesAsia.
Hmmm, how can I put it, if I had to choose just the one word to describe the picture then the words floating around inside my head would be; flawless, sublime, outstanding, excellent. I think you get it! As this film was the first ever Ghibli production to be 100% coloured in computers this is most likely a direct digital transfer, so we get the same kind of presentation that Disney have been treating us too with DVDs like Tarzan and The Emperors New Groove. So, in techy talk the picture we receive on this DVD was struck from a flawless print and is presented in beautiful Anamorphic NTSC, and displays absolutely no signs of ageing or compression problems.
Presented with the option between Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital and DTS Japanese soundtracks I initially chose the DTS option. Now, whilst my DVD player is capable of decoding this track I unfortunately do not have the speaker set-up to do it justice, however, just like many other DTS soundtracks I have listened to through my TV this one is noticeably higher in volume and has the edge over the other tracks by providing an obvious improvement in clarity. The soundtracks are all of a very high quality, presenting both the films great score and superb voice acting the way we've come to expect from our beloved format. There is no English soundtrack option, this to me is no big deal, as much of this films subtleties would be lost in an English dub. Also worth noting is that this is one of the few discs that allows you to switch to the DTS track via your Audio button on the remote (rather than pre-selecting it via the films menu).
We get both Japanese and English subtitle tracks as is now standard with Studio Ghibli DVDs (this disc actually started this trend being the first release), but here French viewers get the bonus of a French subtitle track. Whilst I can't comment on the quality of the French translation reliable sources tell me that the English translation is very accurate, and I myself can confirm that it all flows very well, there is never any embellishment of the original dialogue and the subs are as ever, well presented (i.e. they're easy to read!). One thing I noticed is that there is one line of dialogue (in the motorcycle gang scene) that doesn't seem to be translated, but its pretty obvious what is said.
This was the first release in the Studio Ghibli DVD Collection, and unlike subsequent releases we are not treated to full animated storyboards on a second disc, instead we get to view both the films storyboards and even the original comic strips upon which scenes are based utilising the more common method of DVD navigation through menus (going through pages using your remote). These storyboards and original comic strips are presented via the Chapter select screen, whereupon you can choose to view either the chapter, the storyboards for that chapter or in some cases (not all) the original Manga that scene is based upon. Also present on the disc is a 16 minute featurette which contains the original animated storyboards for one scene, all of the films Theatrical Trailers and even the TV Spots - this featurette is not subtitled but this isn't really a problem once you've seen the film. The only other extras of note are the Studio Ghibli collection trailer (showcasing all of their films) and a trailer for the 'Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro' DVD.
The case is a standard single white armaray case, enclosed within you will find an excellent 20 page Manga comic strip which contains an original story based around the film. Unfortunately its in Japanese! but a reliable source informs me it is about a film company who are to release a film based upon a well known comic strip, unfortunately they have chosen to release the film the same day as My Neighbours the Yamadas and Star Wars Episode 1! (I think that sums up the films sense of humour quite well)...
First things first, this DVD excels in every possible way. Secondly, I should probably say this is for Studio Ghibli enthusiasts only (due to the price), but this really is a film everyone should see, and I am almost positive that everyone who does see it will fall in love with it (and then show your friends and family, young and old alike as they will all love it too)....and finally - just buy it!