My Neighbors The Yamadas (of 1) (Mania.com)

By:Chris Beveridge
Review Date: Monday, August 22, 2005
Release Date: Tuesday, August 16, 2005



What They Say
From Studio Ghibli, perhaps the most respected of all Japanese animation studios, and director Isao Takahata (GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES) comes the aesthetically inventive MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS (HOUHOKEKYO TONARI NO YAMADA-KUN). The Yamadas are a family living in the suburbs of Tokyo, and who are representative of the Japanese middle class, with largely realistic, if exaggerated, adventures. Based on a popular daily comic strip, the film utilizes a deceptively simple and stylized animation that recalls the basic nature of its source. Rather than having a plot that stretches across the entire film, instead there is a series of vignettes, some humorous and others serious, which also recall the compact narrative experience of a comic strip. MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS continues the tradition of unique, refined anime from Studio Ghibli.

The Review!
Probably the one film of the Ghibli library that feels the closest to me and my life, My Neighbors the Yamada's finally lands on DVD in North America.

Audio:
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this film in its original language of Japanese. While I was originally introduced to this in the Japanese DTS mix, the only one included here is the Dolby Digital mix and it's quite good but I think just misses some of the warmth and fullness of the DTS mix. The track overall is quite good though and it hits everything perfectly with a good wide range that has the rears being used in creative ways. The English mix is done in Dolby Digital 5.1 as well and mirrors the Japanese pretty much the entire way. Both tracks were free of problems such as dropouts and distortions and were simply clean and clear throughout.

Video:
Originally released theatrically back in 1999, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. Much like my first experience with the Japanese release, this one simply does a stunning job in capturing the colors, warmth and feel of the shows design which is anything but what you'd call standard Ghibli material. With its very soft nature and the strong use of things like pinks and whites, it doesn't stand out in a lot of ways but it is such a striking image and works perfectly for this kind of material. The transfer for this is simply spot on and captured it all just right.

Packaging:
Going with a different look than the Japanese release, we get a fairly simple and basic cover where the bottom half has the family members together all smiling while the top half is a mix of that red stripe banner and the name of the film. It's not terribly eye-catching and it certainly won't sell on the Ghbili name since it doesn't look like anything else of theirs that a casual person may have seen. The back cover provides a cute shot from the films opening as its only piece of artwork and surrounds it with a good summary of the premise. The discs features and production information fill out the rest of the cover though a more defined technical grid would have been good to have. The insert is a standard one-sheet with one side that has the chapter lists for the film and a cute picture of the dog while the other side is boxart shots of other Ghibli releases.

Menu:
The main menu is a cute piece that has the remote control section of the movie playing as well as a few other clips with a bit of music while the navigation selections are lined along the bottom. There isn't anything terribly outstanding about the menu but it's nice and functional and Disney continues to at least make the front loaded trailers all easily skippable and tells you right from the start what keys to use to do it. Access times are nice and fast and the disc played according to our players language presets without issue.

Extras:
The extras are something of a mixed bag here but it really depends on what you want. The extras from the Japanese release are essentially all here as that just had the trailer spots as well as the storyboard development. Unlike the other Ghibli movies at the time, there was no second disc made for the full on storyboards since I think but am not 100% positive that this was the first Ghibli movie to hit DVD in Japan and their method/format wasn't pinned down yet. For new material, we get a new Behind the Microphone session which has footage of Jim Belushi, Molly Shannon and others talking about their roles, the anime itself, what they took from it and all that. While not quite as engaging due to the stars not being as engaging, these continue to be one of the best things about the Disney releases since I find it fun to see people who may have never otherwise seen this kind of thing and realize what's out there and become such fans of it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The original release of My Neighbors the Yamadas was something that was highly anticipated back in 2000 since it was the first of the Ghibli movies to hit DVD through the "day and date" format. In addition, it was a movie that most Ghibli fans simply hadn't seen since it didn't really get to the gray market all that much. With the film being so vastly different from previous experiences, a lot of people really weren't sure what to make of the show. For me, it ended up being something that came at the right time and simply wowed us out of the gate.

The premise of the film is very straightforward in that it's a collection of short stories, often comical in nature, as was originally conceived by Ishii Hisaichi who wrote the original comic strips. Ghibli director Isao Takahata took on the project and wanted to capture that strip feel to it which means that it's style is very neat, such as having rough white edges, lots of simple line work, minimal backgrounds and a very soft color palette that's focused being warm and relaxing. This rough nature manages to work just right for the material and the kind of sense of humor that's there.

The release of the Yamadas in Japan hit at the right time for us as the film kicks off the story about what marriage means and shows it through some very amusing concepts as we see the formation of the Yamada family, from Noboru being born inside a peach and Nonoko being scooped out of a bamboo shoot. The arrival of the grandmother to come and be a part of the family and the growing bond is all masterfully done here visually while the accompanying dialogue of someone in the wedding party talking about what marriage really means gives it even more weight. This came out barely a year and a half after I had been married and watching this with my new wife was something that just really hit us more than it probably would otherwise. Even in watching that opening sequence now, some seven years after being married, it still resonates strongly with us. The other thing that made this release great was that it showed up within a few weeks of getting my first widescreen TV so it was one of a precious few anamorphic anime DVDs out at the time and it simply blew us away.

Depending on ones own family dynamic, what you find funny in My Neighbors the Yamadas will vary. Since it's fairly standard family it has plenty of the usual kind of jokes, but it plays up some serious moments and does a number of really fun little haiku's about living the family life. The little vignettes often mix the two and have a bit of a morality tale to them but even without that they're still fun. Watching as the parents panic over little Nonoko being left at the mall and having the grandmother chastise them all is just spot on. The sadness of the father as he can't get his growing son to play ball with him hits the right notes, particularly when he plays by himself and his mother watches and has fond memories of when her husband used to play with him. And while it's overused here in a few ways, the entire "kung fu TV fight" is just one of the best parts. Yamadas is really all over the place with the humor and the cast all get a good amount of screentime with their own things as well as larger family items.

In Summary:
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a bit hard to describe but what's here is very much a number of universal family stories. Some of it is a bit more cultural than other stories but the bulk of what's here is something that almost anyone can identify with on some level. This film has a lot of appeal to me and though it's been five years since I last saw it, it hit me just the same once again. The English cast does a good job with it and Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon as the parents works out surprisingly well in the end. This is the film that I've wanted to see people talk about the most since it's often the least talked about one. While I don't expect it'll be big by any means, I hope it'll get into more homes than it would have years ago and it surprises people and warms there hearts like it did mine. Great stuff, very recommended.

Features
Japanese 5.1 Language,English 5.1 Language,English Subtitles,Original Storyboards,Trailers,Behind the Microphone

Review Equipment
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Monster component cable and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.



Mania Grade: A
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A+
Packaging Rating: B
Menus Rating: B
Extras Rating: B+
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Region: 1 - North America
Released By: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MSRP: 29.95
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