DVD
My Neighbours the Yamadas

Starring (voice): Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon
Optimum Asia
RRP: 19.99
OPTD0322
Certificate: PG
Available 10 April 2006


Deep in Japanese suburbia live the Yamadas. Like any other family they love, they fight, but in the end they remain a family. Spend a little time with them and revel in their misadventures...

My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999) was directed by Isao Takahata a leading light at Studio Ghibli, who had previously produced the excellent anime films Grave of the Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1991) and Pom Poko (1994). Like Hayao Miyazaki he is a critically acclaimed artist within and without his native Japan.

At this point, I have to admit to not getting the Yamadas. The structure retains enough of the vignette feel of the original strip with a quick set up leading to a quick gag and then on to the next one to admit its origins. My real problem was that I just didn't find it funny and couldn't help but continually keep comparing it to the much more superior Simpsons and King of the Hill. As a format it shares much with these shows, the father Takashi is a downtrodden middle-class worker trying to deal with his wife Matsuko, two kids and his elderly mother who lives with them.

The English audio dub has some well respected voice actors. James Belushi plays the generally downtrodden Takashi with all the frustration inherent in the role. Molly Shannon provides the voice for Matsuko. Molly is well known for both her television appearances as well as her film work. If you like the film the Japanese audio track is well worth a listen.

I'll not deny its poignancy, it has the gentle humour of an old seventies sitcom, in tone and feel it felt more like watching an old episode of Butterflies or The Good Life. Whilst the humour remains at the expense of various family members, mostly the father, there is an over weaning sense that here is a group of people who love and deeply care about each other. At best you could say that the humour was charming rather than laugh out loud.

Graphically, this is a bold move for an anime film; the paucity of detail certainly concentrates the mind on the story and the use of water colours as a medium is an undeniably brave move. Visually, the film uses a lot of pastels which retain the idea that this was originally a gag strip. One of the touches that I liked was the use of some very famous Japanese art as backdrops to the main action. If you look closely you can see The Great Wave at Kanagawa by Katsushika. In fact, it may be that culturally the Japanese are more used to viewing such images as the style is also reminiscent of the water colours produced during Japan's Edo period.

The audio track comes in a nice 5.1 English or Japanese, though to be honest there was not enough happening in the audioscape that couldn't have been handled just as well in stereo.

The extras on the disc are sadly limited; you get the original trailers for the film as well as Ghibli trailers and one for Howl's Moving Castle. The only extra of any interest is the six hundred and forty-four storyboards. Though, unlike the other Ghibli films, you cannot watch the film in this format, in this the storyboards have more in common with the original newspaper strips which where the inspiration for the film.

In the end the film is an affectionate look at the vagaries of family life, with an emphasis on the humour.

Charles Packer

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£14.99 (Amazon.co.uk)
   
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£15.95 (Foxy.co.uk)
   
£14.49 (Thehut.com)
   
£14.99 (Moviemail-online.co.uk)

All prices correct at time of going to press.