Bluray Review by Neil GardnerWe’ve been spoiled a little this month with not one but two Studio Ghibli bluray releases. First was the sublime fantasy Laputa: Castle In The Sky, and now comes the less well known, and in my opinion much overlooked, My Neighbors The Yamadas.
The first thing you need to know is that this film looks unlike anything else in the Ghibli movie collection (although very similar to the Ghibli tv shorts The Ghiblis). In fact, it looks like nothing else you’ve ever seen on the big screen. Unlike the usual stunning mixture of traditional hand drawn animation and cgi you’ve come to expect from a Ghibli title, Yamadas looks more like an animated sketchbook. It is as though an animator’s ideas pad has been brought to life. The screen is a wash of white which is brought to life by beautiful hand drawn inks and water colours. But images fade off at the edges, colours wash away, there is little or no shading, almost no depth or perspective. In one way, the style is simplistic and basic. But the genius of Yamadas is that this approach allows the characters and plot to hurtle to the forefront. Don’t let me undersell the animation though. This is no exercise in student film-making, or a parody of a more traditional style. At times the complexity of the scenes and action are breath-taking. From bob-sleighing newlyweds, to sailing into a mighty ocean storm, Yamadas is a masterclass in animation. It manages to be endearing, amusing, sympathetic, outrageous and exciting. It may take a few minutes for you to adjust to the look and feel of this film but stick with it because what follows is pure Ghibli magic.
The film itself is a collection of moralistic tales, following the family life of the Yamadas: mother and father, grandmother and two kids. It is often slapstick, very often hilarious but also full of pathos and cleverly realised advice for a successful family life. The Yamadas are a dysfunctional family, but unlike a Western film, our Ghibli friends offer us a more genteel form of dysfunction. They argue, bicker, fight, annoy, anger, aggravate and so much more. But they obviously love each other and it is how to balance the difficulties of family life with the love of each other that the film focuses on.
Of the many vignettes, some that particularly stand out include: leaving the youngest child at the shopping centre and panicking about where she has gone; mother and grand mother suffering from apathy and poor memory; facing up to noisy bikers and fantasising about being a superhero; father and son baseball; fighting over the remote control; and many others. There is bound to be at least one that resonates with your own experiences of family life!
As the tales fly by, you learn to love this ridiculous family, with all their individual and group faults. You will laugh along with their adventures in family-life and bit by bit you will fall in love with this energetic, unusual and all together different approach to animated storytelling.
So…does the bluray edition offer anything new, anything worth spending money on? Well, for one, it is a beautiful transfer, allowing the inks and watercolours to shine. Instead of blocks of colour, in this edition you can make out the finer details of the animator’s art. From fine gradations of colour, to every pen and brush stroke. It seems odd to suggest that a high definition version of such a simple looking film should be superior or worth the investment, but I really do recommend this bluray edition. With a superb English dub, starring many of the American actors who have appeared on numerous Ghibli dubs, and the original Japanese audio track (always well worth listening to), this is a beautifully mastered disc.
As for bonus features, once again I feel a little short changed, but whether this is down to the exclusion of material, or simply because there isn’t anything new to add, I don’t know. I would like to see the marvellous Optimum Releasing commission some new material for these editions. There are plenty of Amime and Ghibli experts and fans who could contribute to new documentaries and features. I for one would love to see something by Jonathan Clements (check out his brilliant book on the anime and manga trade, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis). It is about time the ultimate Ghibli documentary was made…come on Optimum, make us fans happy, we’ll buy more discs!
So, to sum up…bizarrely I feel more inclined to recommend Yamadas than I do Laputa. Hang on, no…I happily recommend them both as exciting, original and perfect movies for the whole family. But Yamadas feels like it has profited more from the hi-def process than Laputa. I may be wrong, but Yamadas on bluray is a real step change from the DVD version. But let me suggest this…Ghibli fan or not, buy both these releases, you really won’t be sorry.
As for the Yamadas…I hope we’ll see more of their adventures. But if Optimum could dig up some more classic Panda, Go Panda episodes first, I’d be a really happy chap!