The Other Side of Animation 133: My Neighbors the Yamadas Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

It’s always going to be an uphill struggle for anime to get a foothold in popular culture these days. While a lot of it can be a cultural barrier that holds back the Japanese-style animation, but there are definitely common tropes, writing, design choices, and so on that will hold back the medium, unless they start treading past the common anime quirks. When it gets past those hurdles, and ends up focusing on stuff that can be more universal, people can become more open to anime. I’m not saying it should get rid of everything that makes anime, well, anime, but if you want more people to take it seriously, you need to do stuff like My Neighbors the Yamadas. Directed by the late Isao Takahata, My Neighbors the Yamadas stands out among much of Japanese-animated features, due to its less-than-typical anime design and art style. While the rest of the world didn’t get it until 2005, the film won a couple of film awards and positive praise, but I feel like it slipped under the radar for Ghibli fans. I decided to end Far East Animation Month on this film, because I felt like it needed more love. Let’s get started!

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The story follows a quirky family named the Yamadas. This includes Takashi, dubbed by James Belushi, Matsuko, dubbed by Molly Shannon, Noboru, dubbed by Daryl Sabara, Nonoko, dubbed by Liliana Mumy, and Shige, dubbed by Tress MacNeille. We follow them through small little stories that are full of comedic laughs, touching moments, and relatable situations.

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I think what might throw people off about this film is the pacing. While it is a comedy, it’s more dialogue-driven, with some wacky antics popping up at times. There is also no real story or overarching conflict. No one has to meet the forest spirit to cure their cursed arm that’s slowly going to kill them, or find some magical floating castle in the sky before an evil government gets there first. It’s just short segments with little self-contained stories. Personally, I don’t mind that as long as the characters and the jokes work. Sometimes, a three or five act structure doesn’t mean the movie is going to be good. I think it was very interesting to see a film with more of a focus on slice-of-life situations, even if it was nothing new to the studio that made Whisper of the Heart or My Neighbor Totoro. I found the skits throughout the film to be cute, charming, and funny. That last word “funny” is surprising, since a lot of Japanese comedy is tough to translate into other languages that would make sense. I think both the filmmakers and the dub did a good job keeping it all grounded, and the humor is kept more universal, so that everyone can get behind the antics from the family. Much of the humor does come from the situations they are put in, and due to jokes being understandable outside of a Japanese audience, plenty of them hit.

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I know I said there is no real story-focus, but if there was an overarching theme to the film, it’s that families will have struggles, but if they push on through them, they can overcome any hurdle. While the only major struggles are in the skits in the final part of the movie, the film is full of instances where the family is thrown into a challenge, and while panicking and getting into small spats with each other, accomplishes the mission. It also helps that the family is pretty likable. They are fairly simple characters, but the sub and the dub for the film are quite well done for what was needed. I think this is one of my favorite English dubs that has been used for the Ghibli films, because it’s comedic, but more grounded. James Belushi is great as the father, Molly Shannon brings in a charming quirky vibe to the mother, Tress MacNeille is pretty much the perfect voice actor to get for sassy grandmas, David Ogden Stiers has a charming and soothing voice for the narration, and I was surprised by Daryl Sabara and Liliana Mumy’s performances as the kids.

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As for the animation, there is a reason why this one stands out. Way before we would get the likes of Benjamin Renner’s Ernest & Celestine and Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Takahata used a more simplistic design for everything. It’s all beautifully water-colored, and smooth with its movements and frames, but it’s drastically different than what Hayao Miyazaki, and most other directors were doing at the time. It’s so rare when you can find an anime or Japanese-animated feature that has its own identity in its visuals. However, while simplicity can sometimes really hurt a film or series, with the tone of the story and the comedy, it really works here, and I was not distracted by the change in art direction at all. It’s very dreamlike, and similar to how the flashback sequences were done in Only Yesterday, where the backgrounds were water-colored, but unfinished and blurry.

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If I did have to complain about something, while I love the film’s slice-of-life story, I wish there was a bit more creativity with the animation. It opens and ends on some of the best looking surreal animation Ghibli has ever put out. It still looks fantastic and is fun to watch, but it would have been nice if there was more of that stuff subtly thrown in as the film went on. It’s also a bit long for me. Sure, I love the film, its story, its comedy, and characters, but 104 minutes was pushing it. I say this also, because while a lot of it translates well into English, one or two of the skits definitely felt like they were more rooted in Japanese cultures.

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In general, I understand why people aren’t super fond of this film, but I really liked it. When you are about to go into a month of comedies, seeing such a laid-back film really helps break up the US animation scene. If you haven’t seen this film yet, I highly recommend picking up the GKids rerelease. If you want a film that’s vastly different from the rest, the Yamadas have you covered. Well, while Far East Animation Month is over, that isn’t going to stop me from reviewing another animated feature from Japan. Next time, we shall watch and review Metropolis. Thanks for reading! I hope you all enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Go See It!

The Other Side of Animation 93: Porco Rosso Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

For as much as the film and entertainment industry loves to do movies about war-time settings, we rarely get them outside of the World War II area. Sure, we have Vietnam war films like Platoon and Apocalypse Now, but whenever we get a war movie, it’s more or less the second World War. They have started to spread out the settings and plots with some truly fantastic films like Hacksaw Ridge, and the upcoming Dunkirk, but I rarely see a movie that takes place, or is set around a certain period of time in World War I. I feel like as content creators for the entertainment industry, we could start expanding out into different time periods. I think that’s what drew me into today’s review, Porco Rosso. Directed by the ever amazing Hayao Miyazaki, Porco Rosso was originally made and released in 1992, but the US only got it in the mid-2000s with the help of Disney. Yeah, normally I don’t tackle films made or distributed by Disney, but since they don’t technically have the full rights to distribute the film anymore, I’m going to talk about Ghibli films more often. So, is Porco Rosso truly unique? Does it deserve to be one of my all-time favorite films? Well, let’s take a look.

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Porco Rosso follows our main hero, Porco Rosso/Marco Pagot/Rossolini (depending on what version you own or which dub you watch), voiced by Michael Keaton. He’s an ex Italian fighter pilot, who now lives in a post-World War I world, and is a bounty hunter. All he does is sleep the day away, drink wine, and on occasion, fight seaplane pirates. One day though, after seeing his longtime friend Madame Gina, voiced by Susan Egan, Porco gets called to task and ends up getting into a fight with an American pilot named Donald Curtis, voiced by Cary Elwes. After losing the fight with Curtis, Porco goes into hiding, and travels to Italy to get his plane fixed. He gets the help of a craftsman Mr. Piccolo, voiced by David Ogden Stiers, and with the help of his granddaughter Fio Piccolo, voiced by Kimberly Williams-Paisley, get Porco’s plane fixed. Can Porco get back into the air and take down Curtis?

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So, what makes this one of my all-time favorite movies? Well, it has a lot of elements that blend well together. For one, it has the trademark laid-back atmosphere of what you normally see in a Studio Ghibli film. While this is a film about flying planes and getting into fights with them, the fighting takes a back seat to focus more on the characters, and their interaction with the world and time period they live in. While I can understand the confusion of that aspect and maybe wanting one more fight sequence in the air, the film is more about Porco and his life after the World War I. As you can probably tell from the title of the film or from his name, Porco is a walking talking humanoid pig. Apparently, after a rather terrible and sad incident during the war, he was cursed to be a pig. His outlook on life was more lazy and cynical, and he really didn’t mind that. He knew how the world worked, and was disgusted by it. He would rather live alone in an island out-cove with his valuable plane, while drinking and laying around all day, than join a side, and fight for a country with certain beliefs. A lot of people have asked why they made him a pig in the movie, and, well, I think what I just said describes a pig perfectly. Stubborn, prideful, lazy, they would rather just wallow where they rest, instead of doing something else. It was also an inside joke from the studio, since Hayao Miyazaki has been infamous for being a stubborn, grumpy individual. He apparently loved pigs, and has always portrayed himself as one. It’s more about what the pig symbolizes than a simple gimmick. I have seen some reviewers not understand that, and constantly be distracted by that fact, without taking a moment to think about it and understand it. It’s one of the few times where the phrase “you didn’t get it” comes into play, and rightfully deserves use of that phrase.

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The film is also fairly light-hearted in tone. Everyone from Porco to the pirates are not really that imposing or intimidating. I mean, they kind of are, but it’s a more lightweight kind of intimidation. Even the leader of the pirates, voiced by Brad Garrett, is probably one of the best side characters Ghibli have ever come up with. He yells loudly, is also stubborn and prideful, but he isn’t above telling a bunch of little kids he kidnapped to calm down and not jump off the plane. The pirates don’t even hurt them. It does that thing I love where there is no real bad guy. Curtis is bad since he almost killed Porco, but he’s not evil. He’s just a celebrity in a time period where being a celebrity was becoming more of a big deal, and he thinks he should be getting everything a celebrity deserves. He even calls out Porco on some of his stubbornness in the last third of the film. This tone makes a lot of the characters fun to be around, from Mr. Piccolo, his family, and the seaplane pirates, to even smaller characters that Porco runs into, like the weapon crafters. Actually, I think the weapon crafters have one of my favorite scenes from any movie, where one of them asks what the difference between making money off war and bounty hunting is. The line basically goes “If you make money off of war, you’re scum, but if you can’t make money off of bounty hunting, you’re an idiot.” It took a few viewings for me to really hear that line, and find some charm in it. Don’t get me wrong, the tone can be rather mature, and it doesn’t shy away from the fact that a lot of people died in the war, and there is a lot to unpack with Porco as a character, but it’s not shoved in your face. It knows when to show off the more whimsical tones, the anti-war tones, and so on and so forth. It also feels unique, since it’s not really a war film. It takes place during that period in time, but it’s not about battles or killing soldiers. It’s just characters dealing with the changing times between periods of violent and terrifying war.

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Animation-wise, well, it’s Studio Ghibli. What should you expect from none other than some of the best animation around? Great character movements, spot-on physical comedy, fantastic expressions, subtle movements, gorgeous colors, breath-taking scenery, fast and fun flight sequences, and great character designs. This film also has one of my favorite voice casts of all time, with Michael Keaton doing a perfect job as playing stubborn and prideful Porco, Brad Garrett as a great comedic antagonistic foil, Susan Egan as Gina, a beautiful, yet stern singer at her own private island, David Ogden Stiers as the quirky repairman, and Kimberly Williams-Paisley as the optimistic and strong-willed granddaughter Fio. Probably one of my favorite casting choices is Cary Elwes as Donald Curtis. At first, it’s really shocking, since they got a British guy to do a rather over-the-top American voice, but it fits that point in history of how a stereotypical American would sound, and he brings a lot of passion and energy to the role. Even the minor characters voiced by Bill Fagerbakke, Kevin Michael Richard, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Dee Bradley Baker, and many more all do a fantastic job, no matter how small their roles are. Of course, I would be silly to not bring up the beautiful and fun soundtrack by Ghibli composer, Joe Hisaishi. He definitely has more light, bombastic, and whimsical tones, but also beautiful slow-paced songs that fit the quiet tone of certain areas in the film.

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If I had to really nitpick, and I really do mean nitpick, I think I probably would have liked maybe the first time you see Curtis fight with the seaplane pirates not cut off so abruptly. I get why they did it, but I would have liked to have seen one more fun airplane fight.

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Outside of that, I have no real complaints. I love this movie from head to toe. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, and is easily a film I would highly recommend showing off to anyone new or old to cinema. It’s also one of the best wartime films, and if for some reason you haven’t seen it yet, please do. I could easily talk about different lines and different scenes from this movie all day, and it stands up there with Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Paprika as one of my favorite Japanese animated films. Unfortunately, I must move onto the next movie to review. Luckily, it’s a film I also deeply love, as next time, we will take a look at My Life as a Zucchini. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and I will see you all next time.

Rating: Criterion/Essentials