My Neighbour the Yamada's
Ready for some more Ghibli magic? Awesome flights of fantast that soar through the realms of possibility delivering an exciting story that stirs the soul? Well, forget that, because this strange anime is perhaps the most domestic and restrained production Ghlibli will ever produce.
For example there is, by an large, no story at all. Instead we get little vignettes (short scenes) from the domestic lives of a seemingly average Japanese family. In particular a husband and wife, their teenage male child and young daughter, and finally an older grandmother...and a dog. They've got fairly definite personalities, but these personalities are very `human'...there really is nothing terribly special about these people. Or alternatively, it could be intended to make us aware of just how interesting and complex even the seemingly simple can be.
The stories themselves are somewhat similar. They vary in how `unusual' or uncommon the events are, but no fantasy is required to imagine such a thing happening. And the results, especially some nice dialogues, are likewise bound by the fact that we are watching normal, with all the flaws that entails, people. Nor do the stories have momentous or obvious conclusions or meanings, or even the reason behind why the story has been told. Yet, at the same time, there is meaning in even these most humble of events.
As if you haven't guess this is sort of a tough one to review. Because i'm suprisingly ambivalent about it. The first thing to mention has to be the element of disappointment. While it is seriously unfair those of us who are fans of Ghibli expect big things, and something this subdued and restrained does not come close to meeting the dreams. But then, perhaps it is a good thing in general that Ghibli does something different occasionally. To break down the need to do endlessly `bigger' films.
In truth my main comment should be obvious from the paragraph's i've written. Each of them has said that while it seems very ordinary, perhaps it does have hidden depth. It really is that sort of movie. Some of the scenes are charming, the insight into the characters skilled and the hidden meanings and complexity of life brought to our attention in a novel way. But I must admit that I do feel that it makes you work fairly hard. If someone sees cosmic truths and hidden depths in this movie then they're doing most of the work themselves. And, at times, it does seem sort of self indulgent. Who are these people, and why do we want to spend our time looking at scenes from their ordinary and dull little lives?
It's somewhat interesting for a western fan in that you get to see into a Japanese family. But from this point of view it is disappointing that the nature of humanity is fairly universal. Sure the setting is very Japanese, and perhaps there are subtexts the western fan isn't getting, but by and large it doesn't feel exotic enough to be exciting.
At the end of the day it's novel and interesting for the patient and introspective. But it's not something that is thrilling or exciting. While I didn't mind watching it, I can't imagine wanting to watch it too many more times. Likewise, while each individual story is moderately entertaining, as a whole it goes on way too long. Some of the stories were, dare I say it, boring and pointless. I enjoyed it more when I watched it in small segments, but that's surely a pretty horrible thing to say about a movie.
And now here comes a very important part of the experience. This anime is done in a pretty old manga style. In other words the whole movie is done in the form of a drawing, evidence of brushtrokes, no color and simple design, representation and animation. If you took an older, simple manga style and made it move it might well look like this. It's incredibly skilled, but it's so dramatically unimpressive that the excitement fades fairly quickly. Some will no doubt see it as a wonderful tool to focus on the essence of the domestic scenes being represented. But to me it feels like an experimental technique that has been expanded to the status of a movie. I don't mind it, but by the end of the movie i'd had enough. The voices are excellent, but of course restrained by the subject matter. The music is pleasant, but seems to be modelled after `everyday' music (and quite japanese at that) so it doesn't really impress too much.
I'll be very interested to see how the other reviewers respond to this, but since it is fairly new it looks like i'll have to wait.