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My Neighbours The Yamadas

My Neighbours The Yamadas

By Arpad Lukacs • May 14th, 2011
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Optimum Home Entertainment/ Studio Ghibli 

Release date: May 9th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 104 minutes

Original language: Japanese
Country of origin: Japan

Year of production: 1999

Director: Isao Takahata
Writers: Isao Takahata, Hisaichi Ishii

Voice cast (English): James Belushi, Molly Shannon, Daryl Sabara, Liliana Mumy, Tress MacNeille

Living life is something we are all familiar with. We might occasionally imagine that we are spies, superheroes or private detectives, but the next day we realise: we left the umbrella at work, forgot to do the shopping or have to prepare for an exam as the deadline is looming over our heads.

The relationships we have with parents, grandparents and siblings have shaped us into who we are today – for better or worse. When these little things in life are addressed in film and animation, they are normally woven subtly into some kind of a plot, concept or story. This has to do with the assumption that you can only make a film about something if you make it about something.

My Neighbours The Yamadas

Writer and director of My Neighbours the Yamadas Isao Takahata proves this is not the case. This wonderfully heart-warming anime is a shining example of how a well thought-out, yet simple story about everyday situations can ultimately convey something visceral and true about life. And while it does that, My Neighbours the Yamadas is also one of the funniest and most entertaining films I’ve ever seen.

It’s about the ups and downs of the Yamada family as they navigate through the many obstacles life presents.

On the surface, it sort of looks like the grumpy, hard-working father, Takashi (James Belushi), the somewhat hyper-active and unfocused mother, Matsuko (Molly Shannon), the sharp-tongued grandmother, Shige (Tress MacNeille), the adolescent son, Noboru (Daryl Sabara), and his tiny sister, Nonoko (Liliana Mumy), don’t really like each other at all.

My Neighbours The Yamadas

Rivalries and personal insults are quite common occurrences, but there’s always a line the Yamadas never cross. They don’t express how they really feel about each other every minute of every day, but sometimes a random act of kindness emerges from their self centred oblivion and we are reminded of the bonds that bind them together.

After a brief character introduction, it goes into a beautifully designed intro with the wedding of Takashi and Matsuko with heavy use of metaphors for all of the joys and difficulties that await them on the journey. The intro in itself is a masterpiece; we can see where the people at Pixar took the inspiration from for a very similar ‘life-montage’ in their 3D animated feature Up (2009).

My Neighbours The Yamadas

After the intro, episodic content follows. A series of events may appear random at first, but there’s a subtle theme of bonding and love progressively more emphasised as the film approaches its conclusion. These episodes could be described as a strange hybrid of social realism and situation comedy. They range from the ordeal of the family losing its youngest member Nonoko in a department store to something as simple as Takashi arriving home from work and trying to stay awake so he can eat something.

All of this is done in a minimalist visual style I have never quite seen before. While a few scenes used in the intro and the closing are full of detail; most of the film has a very simple, almost unfinished look about it which is perfectly matched by its subtle use of colours. In many scenes the illustrators didn’t draw a background at all – it’s simply not there.


  • Storyboards (PiP)
  • Secrets of My Neighbours the Yamadas (45 mins)
  • Behind the Microphone (68 mins)
  • TV Spots / Original Japanese Theatrical trailers

It becomes somewhat like a novel that relies on our imagination to fill in the gaps. At one point when Takashi is forced by his wife and mother-in-law to confront a motorcycle gang outside the house the animation switches from the stylised comic strip presentation to a more realistic style to visually adjust to the seriousness of the situation: the fingerprint of a genius.

For the epilogue we are back at a wedding, but this time Takashi, his wife Matsuko and her mother Shige are guests – and Takashi is to give a speech. Instead of his prepared speech, Matsuko accidentally gives him the grocery list so Takashi is forced to ad lib – and does an admirable job.

My Neighbours The Yamadas

The film concludes with another ‘life montage’ with Takashi, Matsuko and a karaoke machine. They sing a song perhaps best known from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), where it was memorably performed by Doris Day, “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”, and it’s the perfect song for a perfect closing in what is already a perfect animated feature.

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad Lukacs

Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.

Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.

Have a look at Arpad's photography site, and you can follow him on Twitter @arpadlukacs.

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