Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Movie Log: My Neighbors the Yamadas

I'm picking off the last few Studio Ghibli movies that I haven't seen yet, and so the Hornswoggler family recently saw My Neighbors the Yamadas for one of our Friday family movie nights.

It's directed by Isao Takahata, better known for Grave of the Fireflies (which I still haven't seen, since it would be too much for my sons and I don't really have time to see animated movies without them) and for Pom Poko (which might just be the one movie my older son has seen the most; he returns to it every two or three months like clockwork, and like no other movie). Yamadas is a much lighter movie than either of those, though, a pastel-colored cartoony series of loosely interlinked sketches about one Japanese family.

There's no continuing story, just a series of story-like scenes about these five people -- father, mother, grandmother (I didn't quite figure out whose mother she was supposed to be, actually), older brother, and younger sister. There's a mixture of broad comedy -- the characters are all types, though they seem somewhat less like types to those of us from the other side of the world -- and of smaller, quieter haiku-inspired moments. It's all based on a popular series of 4-panel Japanese comics by Hisaichi Ishii, which I don't think have ever been widely available in English translation -- so we're all on our own that way.

If you're willing to accept the idiosyncratic animation -- it doesn't look like any other movie I've ever seen, in its hazy, caricatured, watercolored, half-finished way -- and the lack of an overall plot arc, My Neighbors the Yamadas has a lot of enjoyment to be found in it. It's quite funny, in ways that mostly do translate. It's a bit like a more refined, though still occasionally earthy, Japanese version of the original Simpsons shorts from twenty years ago -- the stories of one family who are definitely not role models, but whom we can sometimes see ourselves in.


Danielle said...

I highly recommend you do yourself a favour and put aside your very American bias that animation is good only for stories involving singing animals or the repetitive exploits of retarded coyotes. See Grave of the Fireflies because it is one of the most touching STORIES and FILMS you will ever see, whatever the medium.
You will, of course, also appreciate the artistry of every frame (more so than most of the Miyazaki films, imo) but chances are the emotions will hit you before the analysis.
One of the beauties of animation is that, because the characters are not photo-real, it is psychologically easier for us to project ourselves into the story and so it can touch us more deeply than if we were watching an actor in the same role. The US needs to get on the animation for adults (not porn, I'm sure they're on that one) wagon because they (and much of the world under their influence) are missing out.

Andrew Wheeler said...

Danielle: I'm assuming you weren't intending to sound that condescending, nor to give the strong whiff of a drive-by, given how you seem to have no sense of the other things I've written about animation in the past. So I'll just grin tightly and thank you for your concern.

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