My Neighbors the Yamadas (of 1) (Mania.com)
Review Date: -
What They Say
The latest Studio Ghibli film is now the first to legitimately released in Japan on DVD. As the lead off for the Ghibli no Ippai DVD collection, this release promises some excellent DVDs in the future.
This review will mainly focus on the content of the film but there is a few technical items to mention as well. First of all, the audio and video for this release are rock solid, both on my own (admittedly undersized) 13" set and my friends' 27" TV. The menus are pretty basic, static with no sound, all with a white background and a small picture of Pochi, the pet dog, at the bottom. Hidden in the menus is some dandy extras, though. First off is the more usual extras, a Ghibli no Ippai trailer, with all the clips of the Ghibli films looking absolutely stunning, a clip for the region 2 release of Castle of Caliglistro, a pencil test, movie trailers, promo films and TV commercials. Unfortunately, all of these are not subtitled, but some items, such as the movie trailers do have both a DD2.0 and 5.1 mixes available, which is indicated on the title cards that proceed each piece.
The most fascinating extra is in the chapter select area. Rather than the usual chapter select, we are treated to a several screens (there are 89 (!) chapters in this film), with the chapter title down the left side and three rows of boxes. The left most row is the usual chapter select, the middle row shows the story board for that scene. The right most row, however, is a real treat. That row contains the original strips done by Ishii Hisaichi that inspired the particular scene. Unfortunately, even on the 27" TV, the text was a bit small to make out. But it's still fun that it was included.
The other neat extra is actually a 20 page booklet included with the DVD. Titled "Houhokekyo Tonari no Nono-chan" (Tonari no Yamada-kun shifted focus a few years back to Nono, the youngest child of the Yamada's), the first half contains character introductions and a few sample strips introducing them. The last half is one story. A fictitious anime studio, Studio Zarori, has a brilliant plan. Since My Neighbor The Yamadas and Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace are coming out the same weekend, they'd make a My Neighbor, Nono-chan movie and make lots of money. So they hunt down Ishii, the writer of the strip to do the script. After some slapstick (and a cameo by the Yamada's), it's finally done. However, when the movie opens, everyone goes to see Yamadas and Star Wars I and the movie flops. On the back is a gag strip, where Ishii buys 130 copies of the Yamadas DVD, even though he doesn't have a DVD player.
But, all those extras would be for naught, if the movie wasn't good. Rest assured, though, that it's Studio Ghibli, it's Takahata, it's good. Warning: spoilers ahead.
One of the reoccurring themes in Takahata films is a fond sense of nostalgia, even if the event depicted are not exactly the most happy. You see that theme in films like Grave Of The Fireflies and Omihide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday) and you see it here in My Neighbors, The Yamadas. Despite all the little frustrations (like a light burning out, or forgetting items), panics (leaving a child behind accidentally), and annoyances (fighting over TV programs), there is a fondness for the characters and for the family. The Yamadas are suppose to be a typical Japanese family, and as such, are suppose to be easily recognizable to the Japanese viewer. For the foreign viewer, this often humorous look into Japanese family life highlights some of the concerns and pressures that the modern Japanese family faces and such highlights the differences. For example, the emphasis on (and often frustration with) studying in high school.
The animation style is also a marked change from typical Ghibli fare. Done entirely in CGI, instead of the lush backgrounds and detailed characters, the characters and backgrounds are done in a sketchy style, with only principle fleshed out, and coloured in an ink-wash style. There are a few instances of rotoscoping, such as TV programs, and a rather tense segment where Takashi faces down a motorcycle gang. The motorcycle sequence looks almost out of the video for a-ha's "Take On Me," but the stylistic change reflects the change in mood.
The movie opens with an introduction of characters, with a voice over by Nono-chan. Then after the title card, is a long metaphorical sequence about the journey through life, starting with the improbable image of Takashi and Matsuko in Japanese wedding garb riding a bobsled down down their wedding cake. Using metaphorical images from a typical Japanese wedding speech and references to Japanese folk tales, it shows the growth of the family from a couple to having children. The notion of a journey occurs several times throughout the film, with reoccurring images of trains, bicycles, snails (!), flying and cars playing important roles in the film.
Another device used is the reoccurrence of famous haiku, mostly written by Basho. The purpose of the haiku is two fold; to highlight the emotion of the scene and, in conjunction with the ink wash style of the movie, to give the feeling that you are watching an animated scroll, done for modern times. It is at these moments where Takahata's sense of nostaliga is the strongest. By juxtaposing an 18th century haiku with a moment from modern life, Takahata is showing how certain things about the human condition remain unchanged, despite everything.
But at the same time, life is varied, as shown by the structure of the film. After the opening sequences, the film does not have a single overarching plot, but is broken into several sections. Some sections such as Nono being left behind accidentally or Shige and the motorcycle gang are continuous stories. Others are series of related vignettes based on a single theme. Others still fall in the middle somewhere, such as the section on male bonding. Some of the bits are laughing out loud funny, others are more poignant.
A note about the subtitles. There are English, French and Japanese subtitles available on this disc. The English subtitles are really well done with only a few questionable translation choices. Interestingly, the subtitles appear to be aimed at a North American audience. The most obvious instance of this is substituting "911" instead of the Japanese "110" as the emergency number for the police. Also of interest for Japanese language learners is that some of the harder kanji in the Japanese subtitle track have furigana (small kana above the characters to aid reading). I haven't seen this done in the two region 1 releases I have with a Japanese language subtitle track, so I think it's a nice addition. And while they do have a black border, I with they used some color other than white, especially with the predominance of white in the film.
So, overall, a great film and I'm looking forward to seeing what the rest of the region 2 Ghibli discs look like after seeing this fine disc.
Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround,Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround,Japanese DTS 5.1 Surround,English Subtitles,French Subtitles,Japanese Subtitles,Storyboard Development,Animated Pencil Sketches,Trailers (theatrical and TV),Ghibli Collection Preview,Castle of Cagliostro Trailer,Yamada's Manga Booklet
Oritron DVD200 (code-free), Magnavox 13" RGB monitor, Sony CFS-1053 stereo, Sears 27" stereo TV, RCA connectors.
Mania Grade: B+
Audio Rating: B
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A+
Menus Rating: B-
Extras Rating: A
Age Rating: All
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment Japan
Running time: 104
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: My Neighbors the Yamadas