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MY NEIGHBORS THE YAMADAS

Review by Ed Nguyen

English Voices: Jim Belushi, Molly Shannon, Tress MacNeille, Daryl Sabara, Liliana Mumy
Director: Isao Takahata
Audio: English or Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English
Video: Color, 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Studio: Disney
Features: Behind the Microphone featurette, trailers, original storyboards
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: August 16, 2005

"Beauty is fleeting, life is long."

Film *** ½

Hoorah for Japan's Studio Ghibli!  They sure know how to make fun cartoons.  Tired of trendy and contemporary CG-animated films which try too hard to please?  Want something really relaxing with plenty of kiddy appeal and charm?  Why not watch My Neighbors The Yamadas?

This sweet, winsome, and innocent film from Studio Ghibli takes a peek into the wacky suburban lives of the Yamada family.  There's Takashi, the stressed-out father, and Matsuko, the bumbling housewife.  There's also Noboru, the teenaged son embarrassed about his nutty folks, and Nonoko, the wide-eyed baby sister who does cute little things.  And what family drama would be complete without that old battleaxe, the dreaded mother-in-law, or the cool and collected family pooch?

My Neighbors The Yamadas comes from the comic strip by Hisaichi Ishii.  The drawings are minimalist and very sparse.  The film is like watching a Charles Schultz Peanuts TV special - simple little Zen philosophies wrapped up in humorous vignettes.  Or, in this case, simple little haikus.

There is no main story, just a constant string of life's little joys and accidents.  We see cooking disasters, struggles over the television remote, and silly arguments about nothing.  We also see how everyone in the family dreams and imagines a lot about how the future can be even better.  But they don't just dream about it, they work hard to make their dreams come true, too. 

Sometimes, the movie is funny only for Japanese people.  But most of the time, everyone can laugh at the jokes in this film.  There is a cute story about how the family forgets Nonoko at the shopping mall one day.  But she is not scared; she finds a helpful information desk and complains that everyone in her family has gotten lost except her!  In another story, the father has to make a speech in front of a lot of people, and he is very nervous.  When he talks, he makes some goofy mistakes but he doesn't stop talking, and in the end, everyone really likes his speech.

So, all the little stories in My Neighbors The Yamadas are not only funny but also teach some poetic lessons about relationships and life.  Maybe being part of a family is not always perfect and maybe we get into trouble with our parents or brothers or sisters, but in the end, everything will turn out okay.  Don't give up, keep on going.  As the saying goes in a famous song, que sera sera - whatever will be, will be!

Video *** ½

Look at all the pretty little drawings!  There is mostly white background with some sketches, but the drawings look a lot like comic strips.  The fantasy sequences are more elaborate.  Otherwise, this is simple and basic animation.

The transfer is practically perfect and very clear.  It is in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks almost brand-new.

Audio *** ½

Listen to the film in Japanese if you like.  It's Dolby Digital 5.1.  Or listen to it in English.  It's also Dolby Digital 5.1 and has the voices of Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon.  Both soundtracks are very good.  Even the happy Japanese songs are very catchy.  However, the most famous song is "Que Sera Sera" at the end of the film; it describes family life very well, not just for the Yamadas but for everybody.

Features **

Yes, Disney skimped a little on the extras here, but that's okay.  This is an unassuming little film that doesn't need a lot of explanation.  Check out the Behind the Microphone featurette (5 min.) if you're interested in the funny actors, like Jim Belushi, behind the English voices for this film.

If you liked My Neighbors The Yamadas, also watch the trailers on this disc.  You can learn more about other great Studio Ghibli films, like the famous Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Porco Rosso, The Cat Returns, and, best of all, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.  Or, you can take a sneak peak at Disney's Cinderella, Toy Story, Tarzan, and upcoming Valiant.  Don't forget the sixteen minutes of "work-in-progress" trailers for My Neighbors The Yamadas, either!

Lastly, if you want to see how My Neighbors The Yamadas was made, look at the "Original Storyboards" section on this disc.  It shows how almost the entire story was first planned and drawn on sketch pads before it was made into a movie.

Summary:

"Children are the best reason to weather life's storms."

My Neighbors The Yamadas is as refreshing as cool lemonade on a hot summer day.  Kids will want to watch it again and again.  And again some more!  Plus, adults can enjoy it a lot, too, so this is a very good family film.

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