published in Empire No.64, Sydney
Isao Takahata continues his notable direction of manga outside of prescribed otaku fandom with this film version of the long-running comic strip My Neighbors The Yamadas by Hisaichi Ishii. Retaining the charm and warmth of its short gags, the film mixes whimsical flights of fantasy with a refined observation on middle-class family life in contemporary Japan.
Mum, Dad, Grandma, teen son Noboru and younger sister Nonoko comprise the Yamadas. Everything about them is normal, but the film widens perspective on their familial tensions and resolutions to show that normality can be rich in unnoticed details. Takahata responds well to the purpose of the original comic and employs sketchy stylized animation to focus on the family's interactions. As with all Studio Ghibli output, the crafting is precise, considered and heart-felt.
Of particular interest is how the film has threaded numerous incidental moments to shape a study of the family's interactions. In this respect, My Neighbors The Yamadas shares tonal similarities with the cinema of Ozu. A variety of folk and pop mythologies are referenced (the peach boy, the girl in the bamboo stalk, the floating classroom, Kamen Rider, biker gangs) and episodic breaks are marked by haiku poems from Buson and Basho, making it a low-key delight.