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Anime on DVD: My Neighbor's the Yamada's
Appearances can be deceiving. Any animé fan who has ever tried to convince someof their less enthusiastic friends or colleagues to watch an animated"masterpiece" knows the feeling - "I know it's animated, but willyou not give it a chance?" How many times have you said that? Personally,I've lost count. Imagine trying to convince them to watch "My NeighboursThe Yamadas" - How can a film which relies on child like drawings and hasno real plot be so directly linked to the human condition? Well, that's simple:It's Studio Ghibli and It's Isao Takahata.Studio Ghibli are always pushing the boundaries of hand drawnanimation - You may not realize to look at it, but when "My Neighbours TheYamadas" was released, in Japan in July 1999, it featured some of the mostrecent advances in computer animation. It still does. Using computers to shadehand drawn cels may seem like a lazy way to produce animation, but that is justnot true - by doing this, the film takes on a beautifully unique appearance,backgrounds, colours, fade and contrast can be precisely controlled and, mostimportant of all, the director can more accurately achieve his goals.
Who is this director? Takahata Isao of course. A man who's name is synonymouswith brilliantly written and directed, affecting animation. "Grave of theFireflies" and "Only Yesterday" may be his most acclaimed works,but we can now add "My Neighbours The Yamadas" to that list withoutfear of reprisal. Like Takahata's other works, "My Neighbours The Yamadas"is based on already well known material (in this case, "Nono-chan" along running Japanese daily comic strip). And like Takahata's other works,"My Neighbours The Yamadas" takes that well known material and reworksit into something fresh, original, challenging and unique.So what of the film? What is it about? What do I mean when Isay no real plot?In describing the film I am reminded of a couple ofappropriate ideals (or, if you like, clichés). The first being "Beautylies in simplicity". The film is a series of observations of family life -Master Yamada going to work, Noboru studying for upcoming exams, Nonoko gettinglost at the mall, Shige visiting a friend in hospital, Matsuko cooking dinner,and so on. What the film does is tell these tales in a comic book style, makingus laugh, but more importantly it makes us think about the situation, andultimately ourselves. When Takahata wants to, he takes one of those moments andadds an altruistic touch. He leaves contemplative silences, or adds touchingmelodies. He then fully envisions the ideal "Beauty lies inSimplicity" by occasionally adding a Haiku to the end of a scene. It's amasterful touch.The second ideal I am reminded of is "The best things inlife are free". There are lots of little moments in the film which make youaware of the world around you. The wedding speech at the start of the film,Shige-chan's observations of the plum tree blossoms, her lecture to themotorbike gang. The very last images of the film are juxtaposed with a Haikuwhich perfectly sums up what the film is all about: Life itself."My Neighbours The Yamadas" is yet anothermasterpiece by Takahata. It is almost a retrospective of his previous works. Itmanages to be a set of observations of modern day life whilst nostalgic at thesame time, it manages to point out life's subtleties, it manages to make youthink about the world around you, and it leaves you thinking about these thingsa long time after the credits have finished rolling.
All this through a few child like line drawings? Yes.I've heard a lot of people voice that this film is tooheavily routed in Japanese culture and family life to be appreciated by awestern audience. Nonsense. If you have any experience of family life, or lifein general then there is much to appreciate and relate to in this film.The Region 2 DVD release of "My Neighbours The Yamadas"redefines the term "Flawless". The Image is perfect, sound is alsoperfect, subtitles are excellent with English and French translations. There arealso plenty of interesting extras for those who like that kind of thing,including a special edition "Nono-chan" comic book. The Japanese havetaken DVD to their hearts, and with releases of this content and quality youcannot blame them.So how am I going to end this synopsis? Well I think you mayhave guessed: I know "My Neighbours The Yamadas" is a Japaneseanimation with child like drawings and no real plot, but will you not give it achance?- Essential collection pagewritten by Lee Johnson