My Neighbours the Yamadas review (Blu-ray)

Based on the yonkoma-style manga by Hisaichi Ishii and written and directed by the man behind the acclaimed Grave of the Fireflies – Studio Ghibli's second-ever release – 1999's My Neighbours the Yamadas is a film that seems a world away from the fantastical anime epics that we're accustomed to from the studio and the likes of living legend Hayao Miyazaki, and yet it still retains the heart and soul found in so many of their productions, as well lessons on life and messages of morality.

The film follows the everyday life of the titular family – husband and wife, their son and daughter, grandma and pet dog – and explores their ups, downs and differences in a wide variety of scenarios that play out in simple stories with no bearing on an overriding narrative. My Neighbours the Yamadas is akin to a collection of comic strips that have been brought to life to create a feature-length film unique to any other Studio Ghibli picture past and present. While Miyazaki is famed for his grand, complex yarns with lush palettes and animation, Takahata's movie is simplistic, visually rough around the edges and finished with a realistic watercolour style. It has been made to look like a comic-to-film adaptation in its purest form and does indeed appear authentic, the only difference on the contrary being that it was the inaugural Studio Ghibli movie to be digitally-made in its entirety.

Takahata has taken often mundane situations experienced in typical family life and turned them upside down by having them happen to a medley of atypical characters. The results are interesting to say the least and afford some very dry humour, although hearty laughs in this literal family comedy are infrequently found.

Many of the short stories within My Neighbours the Yamadas are permeated with haiku, assuring these tales as moral fables of sorts blended with crude drawings and wonderfully crisp colour provided by a top-notch Blu-ray transfer. While the comical fruits of this anime just aren't as sweet as desired, it remains a solid, creative and refreshing effort.

EXTRAS ??? Storyboards for the entire film (an impressive 344 slides); NTV Special Program Super TV “15 Months Exclusive Coverage: Secrets of My Neighbours the Yamadas": a 45-minute documentary; Behind the Microphone: a feature on the recording of the English dub; a variety of TV spots; the original Japanese theatrical trailers; and trailers for other films in the Studio Ghibli Collection.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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