Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Neighbors the Yamadas (orig. Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun) [1999]

MPAA (PG)  Fr. Dennis (4+ Stars)

IMDb listing

My Neighbors the Yamadas (orig. Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun) [1999] written and directed by Isao Takahata [IMDb] co-founder of the internationally acclaimed Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli [IMDb] being celebrated in a truly remarkable animated film series entitled Castles in the Sky playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago this summer (June-Aug 2012), is an award winning anime film based on the Japanese manga-style comic by Japanese cartoonist Hisaichi Ishii [IMDb]. Adapted wonderfully into English by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia for Disney, THIS FILM IS A GEM.

The film is available for purchase through and for rent through Blockbuster's DVD-mail service (Note offers a $4.99/DVD 1 week a la carte rent-by-mail service without a need for a subscription).

The film is about the Yamadas, a "typical Japanese family" living in contemporary Japan.  Living together in their suburban/residential house with a small yard are husband Takashi (voiced in the English version by JIM BELUSHI) and wife Matsuko (voiced in the English version by Molly Shannon), Matsuko's mother Shije (voiced in the EV by Tress MacNeille) nearly teenage son Noboru (voiced in the EV by Daryl Sabara) and younger sister Nonoko (voiced in the EV by Liliana Mumy).  They also have a dog who lives in a small dog house in the back yard.

The film begins with approaching teenagehood Noboru wishing out loud that he had different parents.  Mom Matsuko tries to explain to him that if he had different parents, he'd be a different person.  But as is typical of that age (and really of that rhetorical question) it's to "no avail."  Noboru begins the film wishing he had different parents.

So the film then continues as a gigantic flashback to the "very beginning" -- Takashi and Matsuko's wedding -- and continues then through a series of lovely, lovely vignettes to the present day.  (Without it being MUCH of a SPOILER ... I think the Reader here could guess how it all ends up...).

The "wedding reception scene" itself is worth noting however.  This is because it begins with a toast.  A woman (Matsuko's mother?) rises to talk to the newlywed Yamada's future.  And as she begins by saying "As you begin your life's journey together ..." the scene changes from the reception to Takashi and Matsuko dressed as a determined bobsled team in "helmets and all" sprinting together with their sled down a bobsled run (which turns out to be the wedding cake).  A "sports commentator" is heard saying "looks like they're off to a great start! ;-)" as they jump in together into the sled and zoom down the first two layers of the cake ... WHAT A LOVELY IMAGE ;-).  The imagery then changes repeatedly as the woman giving the toast continues ... So 3 minutes into this film with jaw dropped and tear drops forming in my eyes, I was hooked for the rest of the film.

What follows are situations that Americans could immediately relate to -- losing little Nonoko in the store, walking the dog, etc -- all done with a slight Japanese twist.  Note the imagery used in this film to describe the births Noboru and Nonoko ;-).  Storks and cabbage patches are present but also a couple of clearly Japanese images as well ;-).

All in all, in contrast to the other two films of this series that I have seen, Castle in the Sky [1986] and Kiki's Delivery Service [1989], I found this film to be one that would be immediately relateable without any conceivable caution or qualification by virtually all contemporary western families.  Yes, Takashi was some sort of a "manager" (in American-speak a "white collar worker").  So the film portrays a white-collar/suburban experience rather than either a rural or blue-collar/industrial one.  Still the experience presented felt "more real" than that presented by American family-based sitcoms like The Brady Bunch (1969-74) [IMDb], Family Ties (1982-89) [IMDb], The Cosby Show (1984-92) [IMDb] or even According to Jim (2001-2009) [IMDb] (in which Jim Belushi himself had played), all of which traversed much the same ground over the years.  (IMHO by far the best family-oriented American sitcom was the more blue-collarish Everybody Loves Raymond (1995-2005) [IMDb]).  The Yamadas were definitely "white collar."  However, with grandma/the mother-in-law at home, the feel of the humor felt like a cross of According to Jim [IMDb] and Loves Raymond [IMDb] with, of course, various aspects of contemporary life peculiar to Japan thrown in.

So while I understand that since this movie is not exactly easily available to most American families (one really would have to go onto Amazon or to buy or rent the film) and I would imagine that it would be similarly challenging to find in Europe or Latin America, I would say that if you did find the film ... most families would probably enjoy it.  And the experience could help us to appreciate that (so long as we live near a mjor urban center these days...) our experiences aren't altogether that different from each other. We're all human beings with families which, for better or worse, Love us ;-).

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