More noise than signal

My Neighbours the Yamadas

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

This 1999 effort follows the Yamada family: parents Takashi and Matsuko, their teenage son Noboru, five year old daughter Nonoko, and Granny Shige (Matsuko’s mother), and very much represents a return to the more grounded story where testicles play almost no role in the resolution of any crisis.

Instead it presents a series of vignettes about family life, often very short, on the relationships between the family members, the most dramatic of those being the opening salvo where the family accidentally leave Nonoko behind in a department store, and more commonly focused on events such as Takashi and Matsuko’s battle for TV remote control supremacy.

If the art style and the story structures puts you in mind of a newspaper comic strip, well, that’s not too far off the mark of the source material that this adapts – imagine an Andy Capp strip where the characters actually love each other. It’s the rawest of styles Takahata has used, to the point of being Bill Plympton-esque at points, with some sections sporting a very different style to the rest, particularly as Matsuko has a run-in with a motorcycle gang.

This was, before preparing for this podcast, the only Takahata film I’d seen, and I was left a little cold by it then. It’s not, I think, the easiest introduction to his work, particularly having not experienced the late-nineties Japanese family dynamic myself. However, my wife has, and that’s at least part of why it’s one of her favourites, and in truth there’s not so much difference in families across nations that we can’t all take a great deal of joy from it.

I certainly enjoyed this a lot more second time around, perhaps because my expectations were properly calibrated, and perhaps because having now seen some of his other work, it’s possible to appreciate the very different style this takes, which was both a risk and achievement.

Not a risk that paid off in financial terms, this not doing all that well at the box office, and even with my revised level of appreciation for it, it’s still the Takahata film that I like the least. It’s important to note, for all that, I still like it.

It’s a charming film, and my only actual problem with it stems from aforementioned lack of familiarity with generalised Japanese family unit this is looking to mine comedy from. This means there’s a few occasions where there’s obviously a set-up to a punchline that lacked any sort of punch, but I’m assured of their efficacy for those in the intended audience.

It’s probably the least essential of Takahata’s films to catch up with, but still well worth watching. And there’s not many a directors output we could say that about.