Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata has delivered some stunning stories over the years. But My Neighbors the Yamadas (ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん) is a beautiful, heartfelt film that includes the hallmarks and sensibilities he would show in his other works while presenting a unique and experimental visual style that makes it even more special.
The film chronicles the everyday lives of the Yamada family: parents Takashi and Matsuko, grandmother Shige, son Noboru and daughter Nonoko. Presented in short comic strip-style vignettes, the slices, or more snippets of life deliver relatable situations and bits of wisdom about life and family. In spite of little arguments, annoyances and ups and downs of the everyday, the Yamadas love and care for each other.
That sense of family and warmth is beautifully illustrated through Takahata’s use of a unique animation style. Different from his other films and certainly from any of Studio Ghibli’s releases over the years, My Neighbors the Yamadas is animated in the style of watercolor paintings while also keeping the original manga series Nono-chan, of which the film is based on, very much in its visual DNA.
The deceptive visual simplicity actually reveals and highlights a kinetic environment that helps give each of the characters their own distinct personality. And the film’s whimsy allows the otherwise typical situations to feel that much more emotional and affecting.
The visuals work hand in hand with the collection of moments from the Yamadas’ lives, all carefully crafted to come together in one complete package. While there isn’t necessarily a clear cut, overarching narrative like a traditional film would have, you nonetheless get an insightful and enlightening look at the life of one multi-generational family. One that is undeniably relatable, regardless of where you’re from in the world. The characters are as real as people you may know in real-life.
Isao Takahata has undoubtedly delivered some stunning work over the course of his career. And My Neighbors the Yamadas is definitely one of those films. An amusing, heartfelt look at the ups and downs of life and family presented in a unique and beautifully stunning way.