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My Neighbors the Yamadas Blu-ray Anime Review

7 min read

Probably the one film of the Ghibli library that feels the closest to me and my life, My Neighbors the Yamadas finally lands on Blu-ray in North America.

What They Say:
Join in the adventures of the quirky Yamada family — from the hilarious to the touching — brilliantly presented in a unique, visually striking comic strip style. Takashi Yamada and his wacky wife Matsuko, who has no talent for housework, navigate their way through the ups and downs of work, marriage, and family life with a sharp-tongued grandmother who lives with them, a teenage son who wishes he had cooler parents, and a pesky daughter whose loud voice is unusual for someone so small. Even the family dog has issues!

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release follows a fairly standard approach for Ghibli films in that we get the original Japanese language track in 5.1 using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The English mix does the same and we also get a French Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The film has a fairly dreamlike and stripped down approach to it so the audio is a little more subdued but it plays well to some creative scenes with the way the characters move through things and the dialogue follows effortlessly. The music has some nice swells to it that are rich and warm and the playfulness is definitely one of the best aspects of the mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout for all three tracks and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally released theatrically back in 1999, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. Much like my first experience with the Japanese release in theatrical and home video runs, this one simply does a stunning job in capturing the colors, warmth and feel of the shows design which is anything but what you’d call standard Ghibli material. With its very soft nature and the strong use of things like pinks and whites, it doesn’t stand out in a lot of ways but it is such a striking image and works perfectly for this kind of material. The transfer for this is simply spot on and captured it all just right.

The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case that holds both discs against the interior walls while we also get an o-card with it. Both covers are the same as we get the standard strip along the top with credits, formats, and the Studio Ghibli logo, and the film name just below it in a light and playful way. The bulk of the cover is given over to the illustration style design of the core cast together and it’s cute and representative but it’s also the kind of piece that makes it a hard sell for a potential casual viewer. The back covers are mostly the same with some nice shots from the show and a good summary of the premise while also breaking out the extras included with the film. The case itself has bit extra with more of the technical information that makes me wish they used a standard grid design as well as some production credits. The set comes with a nice little booklet with a few comments from the production side as well as more visuals. We also get artwork on the reverse side cover that pulls from one of the opening scenes as a two-panel spread of the family.

The extras from the Japanese release are essentially all here as that just had the trailer spots as well as the storyboard development. For domestic material, we get a Behind the Microphone session which has footage of Jim Belushi, Molly Shannon and others talking about their roles, the anime itself, what they took from it and all that. While not quite as engaging due to the stars not being as engaging, these continue to be one of the best things about the Disney releases since I find it fun to see people who may have never otherwise seen this kind of thing and realize what’s out there and become such fans of it.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The original release of My Neighbors the Yamada’s was something that was highly anticipated back in 2000 since it was the first of the Ghibli movies to hit DVD through the “day and date” format. In addition, it was a movie that most Ghibli fans simply hadn’t seen at the time since it didn’t really get to the gray market all that much. With the film being so vastly different from previous experiences, a lot of people really weren’t sure what to make of the show. For me, it ended up being something that came at the right time and simply wowed us out of the gate and over time became the one I lamented the most that it didn’t get a Blu-ray release until now as it has such a different style to it.

The premise of the film is very straightforward in that it’s a collection of short stories, often comical in nature, as was originally conceived by Ishii Hisaichi who wrote the original comic strips. Ghibli director Isao Takahata took on the project and wanted to capture that strip feel to it which means that it’s style is very neat, such as having rough white edges, lots of simple line work, minimal backgrounds and a very soft color palette that’s focused being warm and relaxing. This rough nature manages to work just right for the material and the kind of sense of humor that’s there.

The release of the Yamada’s in Japan hit at the right time for us as the film kicks off the story about what marriage means and shows it through some very amusing concepts as we see the formation of the Yamada family, from Takashi being born inside a peach and Nonoko being scooped out of a bamboo shoot. The arrival of the grandmother to come and be a part of the family and the growing bond is all masterfully done here visually while the accompanying dialogue of someone in the wedding party talking about what marriage really means gives it even more weight. This came out barely a year and a half after I had been married and watching this with my new wife was something that just really hit us more than it probably would otherwise. Even in watching that opening sequence now, so many years later, it still resonates strongly with us. The other thing that made this release great was that it showed up within a few weeks of getting my first widescreen TV so it was one of a precious few anamorphic anime DVDs out at the time and it simply blew us away.

Depending on one’s own family dynamic, what you find funny in My Neighbors the Yamadas will vary. Since it’s fairly standard family it has plenty of the usual kind of jokes, but it plays up some serious moments and does a number of really fun little haikus about living the family life. The little vignettes often mix the two and have a bit of a morality tale to them but even without that they’re still fun. Watching as the parents panic over little Nonoko being left at the mall and having the grandmother chastise them all is just spot on. The sadness of the father as he can’t get his growing son to play ball with him hits the right notes, particularly when he plays by himself and his mother watches and has fond memories of when her husband used to play with him. And while it’s overused here in a few ways, the entire “kung fu TV fight” is just one of the best parts. Yamada’s is really all over the place with the humor and the cast all get a good amount of screentime with their own things as well as larger family items.

In Summary:
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a bit hard to describe but what’s here is very much a number of universal family stories. Some of it is a bit more cultural than other stories but the bulk of what’s here is something that almost anyone can identify with on some level. This film has a lot of appeal to me and though it’s been five years since I last saw it, it hit me just the same once again. The English cast does a good job with it and Jim Belushi and Molly Shannon as the parents works out surprisingly well in the end. This is the film that I’ve wanted to see people talk about the most since it’s often the least talked about one. While I don’t expect it’ll be big by any means, I hope it’ll get into more homes than it would have years ago and it surprises people and warms there hearts like it did mine. Great stuff, very recommended.

Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, French Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Storyboards, NTV Special: The Secrets of My Neighbors The Yamadas, Behind The Microphone, Original Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots

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Released By: GKIDS
Release Date: January 16th, 2018
MSRP: $29.95
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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