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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

My Neighbours the Yamadas


Starring (voice): Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon
Optimum Home Entertainment
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: PG

Available 09 May 2011

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 - 1 hr, 43 min, 37 sec) was directed by Isao Takahata, a long-time associate of Hayao Miyazaki and one of the leading lights at Studio Ghibli, who had previously directed 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.

The Yamadas started their life on television, following a newspaper strip, in the 1980’s, as twenty-five minute shows, each show would have three humorous vignettes about the family and their neighbours, although the television show was directed by Hiroe Mitsunobu. The film followed the deliberate use of two-dimensional, flat artwork, the film would carry this tradition and use washed out water colours, the whole picture was left deliberately sketchy.

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.

I didn’t particularly enjoy the film when it first came out on DVD and watching it again on Blu-ray hasn’t changed my mind. I have nothing against the artistic choices that have been made; rather I just don’t think the humour works that well for an English audience. This is after all a humour of manners which has been translated from the Japanese, transposed for an American audience and placed before an English audience. English humour tends to be broader and as most of the jokes are gentle, playful asides at the manners of relationships, it’s just not very funny. Add to this that the format gives the impression of a sketch show and you pretty much have one short, not terribly funny pieces, one after another.

I continually keep comparing it to the much more superior Family Guy which has been criticised for also being mostly a series of vignettes, but at least that makes me laugh.

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.

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 include all of the three hundred and forty-four storyboards, though sadly these have to be played in isolation as they are not integrated into the film. The biggest extra is the NTV Special (45 min, 25 sec) which is another extended trailer for the film, though it does have some information as to why they took a newspaper strip and turned it into a film. Behind the Microphone (5 min, 30 sec) has the cast of the English dub trying to persuade you that the show really is funny. The disc is rounded off with two TV Spots (2 min, 03 sec), five original Japanese Trailers (13 min, 13 sec) and a bunch of Ghibli Trailers (9 min, 42 sec); make what you will that over twenty minutes of the extras are nothing more than trailers.

There is no doubt that the picture quality has improved, but then the artwork was minimalist to begin with. It’s a real suck it and see, there are those who like their humour gentle and if this is you The Yamadas might be right up your street.


Charles Packer

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