Monday, 17 November 2014

Studio Ghibli ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ Review

‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ follows the daily adventures of the Yamada family, who live in Japan. The film is a collection of short unconnected vignettes, each of these is based on separate themes or family members. ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ is based on a comedy Manga titled ‘Nono-Chan’. This film was the first entirely digital production from Studio Ghibli.

‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ is a hard movie for me to review. I didn’t like a lot of things about the film but I struggle to find many tangible reasons for my dislike. ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ succeeds in everything it’s trying to do but I don’t really enjoy what it is.

My first immediately issue with ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ is the animation style, I don’t like it. Now I didn’t completely hate the visuals of the film, it had some really nice sequences. The scenes that mixed 3D animation with 2D designs were really nice for example. I just didn’t enjoy the overall style very much; I thought it was a bit too minimal. 

My second somewhat personal criticism is that I didn’t find the movie very funny. ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ has actual jokes but very few of them worked for me. The jokes are very broad in nature and they feel intended for the largest audience possible. They are jokes that an entire family can laugh at together. Therefore we get jokes where family members accidentally dress up in each other’s clothes or accidentally eat each other’s food. It’s all very safe and unexciting, as if developed by somebody who has had comedy described to them and is giving it a go for the first time.

Another issue with the comedy is that it is very culturally Japanese. A lot of the jokes are based around breaking cultural norms that those outside Japan don’t have. I found myself confused as Japanese social etiquettes were lampooned and I found myself unsure of where the intended joke was. As with the animation complaint, comedy is entirely subjective and I for those who like this kind of family comedy it is a good example, a harmless one at the very least.

The comedy is this movie does bring forward my first more legitimate complaint however. The pacing in this film is atrocious. The timing on the jokes is mostly fine but many of them feature a pause afterwards, as if to allow the audience to laugh. Jokes are sometimes followed with as much as five seconds of dead air, where the characters don’t move and the film seems to wait for the audience to calm down. As you might imagine this becomes incredibly frustrating if you weren’t laughing at the joke. It feels as if ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ was made for a badly behaved cinema audience, one that is easily excitable and very loud.

Although the majority of the jokes are paced fine, some jokes seem to go on for far too long. One sequence is about how eating ginger makes you forget things. This scene goes on for seemingly hours as somebody forgets something and each time the animation pauses to let us laugh at each member of the family for that exact same reason. I can’t get over how bad the post comedy pauses are, it feels like Dora the Explorer is going to ask for your help to find the joke any second.

The tone is also somewhat weird and inconsistent in ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’. An effort has been made to inject real life drama amongst the comedy scenes. This has been done to create a more balanced view of life, a life with ups and downs. The issue is that these scenes seem to come entirely out of nowhere. One sequence shows the grandmother, Shige, visiting her friend in hospital. The scene is played for comedic effect before the friend breaks down in tears and explains that she is dying. The real issue is that the tragic scenes are played out like comedic scenes, complete with a surprise depressing punchline.

The dramatic scenes that work best in ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ are the ones that feel more organic. One quite nice scene revolves around the family tackling some loud bikers and the fallout this confrontation brings. This sequence functions well because it works comedy in when necessary but lets the drama dictate the dramatic pace of the scene.

Mixing comedy with reality is always tricky. ‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ also makes an attempt to add Simpsons-like domestic violence for comedic effect. The issue being that the Simpsons is constantly exaggerated so Bart being strangled has no dramatic weight. When ‘Yamadas’ does these same types of jokes they feel far more grounded and dark. This is primarily due to the constant tonal shifts in the rest of the film, how can something be exaggerated when no normal limits have been established?

‘My Neighbours the Yamadas’ wasn’t for me. I thought it was badly paced and tonally confused. I got up three times during the film to check how much longer it would run. I was sure each time that the relatively swift, in theory, one hour and forty minutes must be coming to a close. It’s not often you look at a progress bar and find yourself hoping for ten minutes of credits.

That being said the family were instantly likable and remained so throughout. I can’t help but feel that the original Nono-Chan manga may be the best way to view these characters. Being in comic strip form would pretty much entirely remove the pacing issues of the film, allowing the audience to engage with the family at whatever pace they want. Similarly the dramatic scenes would not leap out from the page as awkwardly as they do from the screen. I don’t really know why Studio Ghibli chose to adapt it to be honest; it’s hard to see how it benefitted from the transition.

1 comment:

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