Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Slice of Japan? My neighbours the Yamadas

The Barbican's animation festival includes several Studio Ghibli showings, one of which I'd never heard of - My neighbours the Yamadas. It's not a Miyazaki film and it's good to be reminded that not every Ghibli movie is. Takahata's adaptation of a manga by Hisaichi Ishii (a name I'm sure I know though I can't recognise any other manga of his) is a very different style; it's simplistic and 'cartoony', very like the original manga but these aren't quick, scrubby drawings - they're a mix of cartoon-style abbreviated representations (the car is an outline with a wash of colour that's still completely a car), formal Japanese art (a wave washing over a boat is, for a frame or two, the Great Wave of Hokusai; a distant mountain is Fiji framed by leaf and blossom) and changing styles. When the husband goes to confront a biker gang that's disturbing the peace, the animation changes subtly to dark, adult views with long lines and detailed faces and ominous shadows; when the grandmother comes along and harangues the gang, the style changes and the menacing gang leader and cohorts look like toddlers being sulky.

This was Ghibli's first all digital film in 1999 and it's excellent use of computer animation as a tool rather than having the technology take over. Sadly there was an awful lot of dust, crud and scratching on the film in some sections; completely digital in production but then printed onto film and subject to all the entropy film is heir to...

The story is vignettes, just like a manga, rather than an attempt to shoehorn the characters into some overarching plot and it works really well; whether it's squabbling over the remote (which turns into a stylised martial arts battle only with remote and newspaper), manipulating each other into cooking dinner, forgetting umbrellas and briefcases and lunch or improvising a speech at a wedding, it's real life (Ghibli president Toshio Suzuki calls it a film "showing what it's like to live as a Japanese") just drawn with the lightest of hands.

There are more elaborate sections, like the opening sketch (this is the sun/this is the moon/this mountain is actually grandma) and a lovely absurd set piece dramatising the advice the couple is given at their wedding: visualising a marriage as a bob sled run that goes around the wedding cake and takes off to turn into a ship (the husband playing golf on a raft surrounded by sharks that end up on the raft where the rest of the family is watching sharks on TV) then a snail that catches up with the grandmother on her tricycle so the husband can take over peddling (it's odd but a nice way of symbolising the family moving in together in a house the husband builds on the grandmother's land - which causes one of the frequent funny arguments later on).

It was a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon (we sat by the fountains in the sun reading for a couple of hours afterwards) and a film I'd like to pick up a copy of. I'm not sure if I'd prefer the subtitled version we saw - complete with a karaoke Japanese version of Que Sera Sera - or the English soundtrack with James Belushi reading the father...

The video clip on the Barbican Web site is gone, but there are still some stills at
Tags: film, review

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