A Review of “My Neighbors the Yamadas” – Familial Follies

“Now I know why this family gets along so well–BECAUSE ALL THREE GROWNUPS ARE CERTIFIABLY INSANE!!! If either one of you were remotely normal, things would fall apart! HA!”
– Noboru Yamada

Hey guys! Well, it seems as though OtakuAndrain wasn’t able to join me for this one, so I’m flying solo again. I hope you all had a very happy Thanksgiving! To finish out our Freestyle November, and to contract the I picked a movie straight from Studio Ghibli. Heck, after the brilliantly done yet markedly heavy “Barefoot Gen”, I thought we could do with something much, MUCH lighter, and aside from the obvious Ghibli happy movie, I thought this little known jewel would be the best pick. “My Neighbors the Yamadas” is one of the little known yet immensely good Studio Ghibli titles around. It’s simple yet heartfelt and genuine story make it a jewel in any collectors collection. What makes it so good? Well, stick around and find out, will you? I’m Cajun Samurai and this is my review on “My Neighbors the Yamadas”!

Movie Warnings and Notable Objectionable Content – Dude, this is a Studio Ghibli project…need I say more? This is fun for the whole family!

Movie Availability – “My Neighbors the Yamadas” is readily available just about anywhere anime is sold both online and off… Seriously, you should have no problem locating this title…unless you talk streaming. Then you might be up the proverbial creek with without a proverbial paddle.

Story Premise – “My Neighbors the Yamadas” is a movie based off a manga series by Hisaichi Ishii. The film follows the day-to-day life of the Yamada Family: father Takashi, mother Matsuko, older son Noboru, younger daughter Nonoko and mother in law Shige. Though the ups and downs of their life, we follow the Yamadas as they tackle each mini-crisis that comes their way with their own unique blend of family togetherness and cooperation; whether it’s dealing with a missing family member, sorting New Years cards, or coming up with just the right words to say at a wedding speech, the Yamada family proves that the love and unity of a family will see you through any storm. While at first blush this story seems rather simple and sappy, and indeed to some it will be, “Yamadas” is really the perfect blend of simplicity and complexity. It gives you some moments that make you think, but for the most part, you get a very simple and pleasant story. The movie reminds me of another comic strip-turned-anime, “Azumanga Daioh”, in its storytelling style, giving the viewer comic-style vignettes–some short gags, some longer tales. The ending is nothing short of brilliant, coming full circle from the beginning of the movie and providing the perfect slice of life conclusion; an ending that’s not quite an ending. Overall, you can’t get too much better than “My Neighbors the Yamadas” for a good family film. [25/25]

Favorite Scene – I have to say, I love the “Yamada Family Chronicles”. These little one-shot funny moments really are entertaining, with my favorite one being the New Years Card Sort. I love the fact that the dad takes great pride in breaking his record of sorting the cards from the previous year.

Characters – Just like with slife-of-life TV shows, slice-of-life movies depend on the characters to make the story both believeable and bearable. “My Neighbors the Yamadas” pulls this off in spades. Each character is someone we’ve had in our family, for better or worse. Takashi Yamada, our father figure, is your typical family man; he works hard everyday to provide for his family and enjoys spending time with them…when they feel like it. He often feels unappreciated, but on the whole, he is loved by the entire family. He’s not this big, over-the-top father-figure…he’s just your typical salary man who loves his family. The mom, Matsuko, is your typical Japanese housewife–looking after the household, dealing with the kids, and putting up with her mother in law. However, much like Takashi, one thing that I love about Matsuko is that she is not a perfect mom. She goofs off, she’s forgetful, and she finds sneaky ways to get her kids to do things–just like a real mom, really. [If by some slim chance my mom is reading this, you KNOW I’m right mom!] Shige Yamada is the live-in grandmother of the family, and she’s a riot. She’s sweet and nice, but she also has her own attitude and a sharp tongue to match. Older brother Noboru is your typical teenage glasses-wearing boy; easily distracted when it comes to his studies and anxious to get noticed by the cutie in his classroom. Out of all the characters, I related to him the most as I wear glasses and was also easily distracted when it came time to do classwork. [Many a fan fiction story was written during English class…] Finally, rounding out our cast is Nonoko Yamada, the youngest and probably one of the most sensible characters of the series. She’s the PERFECT little sister character–annoying yet sweet. Overall, the characters in “My Neighbors the Yamadas” are absolutely perfect for the story being told and the morals being relayed. [25/25]

Animation – The animation style for “My Neighbors the Yamadas” is like nothing I’ve ever seen before [At least until I saw “Usagi Drop”…] It’s a combination of old school watercolors and new school computer animation. This movie pays excellent homage to its comic strip roots with the simplistic sketch-like drawings and running backgrounds, yet because this film was done completely by computer, the smoothness and complex angles that the film gives the movie a very unique and warm feel to it. Character designs are very realistic; no stick figures or bean poles here. [12.5/12.5]

Music – “My Neighbors the Yamadas” has a very unique soundtrack. I can’t identify any individual track or song, [save for the obvious ending song…] and perhaps that’s for the best. One thing that I applaud the licensers in the US for is the fact that they didn’t change any of the music that contained Japanese verses as those songs are very beautiful and add to the aura of the film. The background and incidental music is very wistful and goes with every scene it’s played in. You sometimes don’t even notice it’s there unless you consciously listen for it. The song “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”  as sung by our entire cast, is the PERFECT way to end the movie. It just makes the viewer feel all warm and fuzzy inside. And the fact that it’s sung by the Yamadas makes this one of the most memorable scenes in all of anime. [12.5/12.5]

Performances and Production – This project was created by, of course, Studio Ghibli with director Isao Takahata at the helm. To say that Ghibli is world-renowned is an understatement. Movies like “Grave of the Fireflies”, “Spirited Away”, “My Neighbor Totoro” are all pretty much required viewing in the anime community and have touched the hearts of both the mainstream anime fan and those who can’t pronounce the word “anime”. In the US, as with most Studio Ghibli films, the project was licensed and dubbed by Buena Vista Home Entertainment, a subsidiary of Disney, with directors Ned Lott and Rick Dempsey at the helm. Looking for Vic Mignogna in the cast list? Laura Bailey? Greg Ayres? Todd Habberkorn? You ain’t gonna find them here. This is a DISNEY production, my friends; age specific celebrity actors all the way. Heading up our main cast as Takashi Yamada is Jim Belushi. Jim is, of course, well-known for his role as the title character in the ABC sitcom “According to Jim”, but he’s also been in his share of animated works. His portrayal of the Yamada family patriarch is very well done. He legitimately sounds like a father-figure and his performance remains consistent throughout. Playing Matsuko Yamada is Molly Shannon. Fans of “Saturday Night Live” will quickly recognise her when they see her, but as she’s behind the scenes in this one, it’s her voice we have to play with, and honestly, she does an OUTSTANDING job. She plays the middle-aged motherly role perfectly. Playing the role of grandma Shige Yamada is Tress MacNeille. Seriously, her voice acting credentials are, far and away, the longest I think I’ve ever seen. Her portrayal of the oldest member of the Yamada family is funny and quaint. Next up playing Noboru Yamada is Daryl Sabara. At the time he recorded this role, he was about the same age as the character he was playing on-screen, which goes to show just how much attention to detail Buena Vista pays when it comes to casting. To say this was his first voice acting gig is surprising as he approaches this role perfectly. Finally, Liliana Mumy rounds out the cast playing little sister Nonoko Yamada. Once again, Buena Vista goes age-specific with regards to casting and once again it pays off tenfold as she strikes the perfect balance of being sweet yet smart. Overall, “My Neighbors the Yamadas” is a boon to listen to in both the Japanese and the English with expert writing on both sides. [25/25]

Final Scores:

Story and Premise: 25/25
Characters: 25/25
Animation: 12.5/12.5
Music: 12.5/12.5
Performances: 25/25

Final Grade: 100/100 = 100% – (A)

Lagniappe (A Little Something Extra):

  • The table that the Yamadas are often seen sitting at is known as a Kotatsu. Pretty much it’s a table frame with a hard top covered with a blanket or futon. Underneath the table is a heating element which warms the occupants under the table. There is also a version that uses charcoal that heats from the bottom using charcoal.
  • In the beginning of the film, we have a scene where Takashi and Matsuko are sailing along a river when they pick up a giant peach from the river. Upon cracking it in half, they discover an infant Noboru inside. This is based on a Japanese folk story called “Peach Boy” or “Momotaro”.
  • In another scene after this one, Takashi, Matsuko and a young Noboru are in a bamboo forrest. Takashi, kimono-clad, slices through one particular bamboo stalk to reveal an infant Nonoko dressed as a little doll princess. This is based on of another Japanese folk story called “The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter” or “Taketori Monogatari”.
  • During the scenes where Matsuko is eating, her voice actress Molly Shannon would actually eat a cookie or hold one in her mouth for scenes where it was required. It should also be noted that Molly was pregnant during the recording of the movie. [Gee…I heard of getting inspiration for a role, but…]

So where does that leave us? Well, that goes without saying. “My Neighbor the Yamadas” is a little known jewel in the Studio Ghibli crown. While it hasn’t quite enjoyed the popularity that it’s older sibling, “My Neighbor Totoro” has enjoyed, “My Neighbor the Yamadas” is still a heartwarming, funny, thoughtful movie with loveable, relatable characters, groundbreaking animation, gentle music and an all-star cast of actors.

And so, with that, we bring Freestyle November to a close! As for the last month of 2012, I think I have just the thing. In addition to my end of the year “Best Of…” series, I think I’ll spend the entire month focused on just two one short anime. But this won’t be just ANY old review, oh no…this review will be done in REAL TIME–that is, after I finish an episode, I’ll review and score that individual episode! Pretty much, one review per day for 12 days! Call it “The Twelve Days of Anime Christmas”, if you will. Here’s hoping I can pull it off! Of course, I’ll have to pick two VERY special shows for this honor. And what better than the winner of the “Best Overall Anime” and “Best Old-School Anime” of 2011 awards! Let’s start off with the best new show of 2011…one of THE cutest animated shows of that year, and one that tugs at the old heartstrings of even the staunchest otaku…so long as you don’t read the manga. Yup. We’re doing that one. Stick around, won’t you, as we hop though episode-by-episode with my review of…

“Usagi Drop” [Bunny Drop]

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2 thoughts on “A Review of “My Neighbors the Yamadas” – Familial Follies

  1. A) I totally agree with you – amazing, AMAZING anime that not nearly enough Americans have seen. It bests even a number of Miyazaki’s works. LOVE it.

    B) I can’t wait for your Usagi Drop posts! I have one coming during Christmastime as well. 😉

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