Ghibli on Netflix: My Neighbors the Yamadas
Simple yet charming animation7
Roxy Simons | On 07, Mar 2020
With Studio Ghibli films now available on Netflix UK, we look at what makes them so magical.
When thinking of the legendary Studio Ghibli, fantastical things like the Cat Bus, moving castles and bath houses full of spirits come to mind, rather than the daily life of an average Japanese family. But that’s exactly who the late Isao Takahata chooses to focus on in his underrated film My Neighbors the Yamadas. Based on Asahi Shimbun’s four-panel newspaper comic of the same name, the director’s slice-of-life comedy details the day-to-day adventures of the Yamadas in a series of vignettes.
Comprised of father and mother Takashi and Matsuko, grandmother Shige, 13-year-old son Noboru, and five-year-old daughter Nonoko, the Yamadas are your typical family unit. They’re forgetful and argue over the smallest things, but they also love each other unconditionally and would do anything to protect their little family. Amusing stories see Takashi and Matsuko fight for control of the TV in a dance-like duel with the remote, while another segment follows the steadfast Shige go up against a group of bikers who have been disturbing the town with their noisy rides every night. In one dramatic turn of events, the family desperately look for Nonoko after accidentally leaving her in a shopping centre, proving their close bond as they rally together to look for the little girl.
As Ghibli’s first fully digital production, My Neighbors the Yamadas has a simplistic watercolour art style, a design that Takahata returned to – albeit more detailed – with his final film, 2013’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. At first glance, the film doesn’t seem as impressive as intricately drawn Ghibli films such as Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but that doesn’t make it any less charming. There is a certain appeal to the modest drawings, as they perfectly capture the unassuming life that the family lead. There is no need for a more imposing art style when the story perfectly captures the individuality of each member of the Yamada clan, and makes them more loveable to viewers because of their relatability.
While not as awe-inspiring as Grave of the Fireflies, Takahata’s directorial debut for Ghibli, or as beautiful as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, there is a lot to love about this highly experimental film. It is a heart-warming comedy full of great moments that celebrate the mundanity of family life and gives viewers small insights into their own existence. With its familiar stories that are given a ridiculous twist, it’s hard not to compare what you’re seeing to your own parents or siblings, or even a family you know. That’s what’s so delightful about My Neighbors the Yamadas, that even with its seemingly unstructured narrative it can capture the true meaning of family.
My Neighbors the Yamadas will never be seen as one of Ghibli’s best films – it couldn’t even be called Takahata’s finest, given Grave of the Fireflies most certainly deserves that accolade. – but that doesn’t mean you can’t love this moving and hilarious comedy just as it is, as it is sure to leave viewers feeling all warm and fuzzy when its over. Even if it’s not the movie every film fan gushes about, this family offering is one that all Ghibli-lovers should give a chance.
My Neighbors the Yamadas is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.