My Neighbors The Yamadas
Reviewed by Wong Lung Hsiang
Japanese Title: Hohokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun
Director: Isao Takahata
Writing Credits: Hisaichi Ishii (comic), Isao Takahata
Cast (Voices): Asaoka Yukiji, Masuoka Toru
Year Released: 1999
Runtime: 104 min
Rating: *** (out of four stars)
What a refreshing start for a movie-going day! We spent the first 10 minutes at the film without subtitles as the film projection was misaligned. But never mind. With minimal dialogues, the animators bring us to the land of fantasy (reminding me of Disney's Fantasia) where the marriage and family are metaphorically portrayed as an exciting adventure in a lifetime - newly-wedded husband and wife fight with the perfect storm on a yacht, and then they hit the land (island?) with a cabbage farm where children are born from the cabbages and delivered by cranes (they collect their son there) ... so on, so forth ... audiences smiled and bursted into tears at the same time, and that reactions carried on throughout the whole show.
When the subtitles were back, we are brought to the comical but no less realistic world of the Yamada family. Bits and pieces of family stories are told in simple but engaging episodes, with wonderful control of comedic rhythm. No slapstick or satire, no manipulative plots (unlike Miyazaki's other productions like My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke), no glamorous images, the movie doesn't try to show what it takes to be a **model** family, but just what it takes to be a **family**. And most importantly: Thank God the animators didn't try to imitate life insurance TV commercials (except the final sequence that turned me off)!