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  • Ravi Swami

"My Neighbours The Yamadas" - Dir: Hayao Miyazaki - 1999

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

In amongst the more familiar films of Hayao Miyazaki's prolific output is "My Neighbours The Yamadas" - this would qualify as "Late-Miyazaki" and a move away visually from his early films, but still developed from a Manga, or cartoons published in book form.

I remember being struck by the broad spectrum of styles in Japanese animation and cartoons in 1985 on a visit to Tokyo, from the more familiar attention to detail and draftsmanship of "Manga" - cartoons in book form - and "Anime" - animated cartoons - to the type of refreshingly economic minimalist doodles that inspire this film.

In the West the mental impression of Manga and Anime is of big-eyed characters with human proportions, but a look at any typical Manga magazine reveals a variety of graphic styles that would fit into the category of loose, quickly produced humorous cartoons that occasionally drift off into scatological situations like haemorroids or *farting, which the Japanese seem to find funny.

In a similar fashion to "Kawai" or "cute", realistic Manga, these still tend to follow a template in terms of characters and the way they are drawn, and in this film this style is a perfect match for this simply told story of family dynamics.

Technically, it isnt even really a "Miyazaki" film per se since it was directed by Isao Takahata, a longtime collaborator of Miyazaki's at his "Studio Ghibli" animation studio, but having the Miyazaki brand stamped on it certainly helped it from a commercial point of view.

This simple, "straight ahead" drawing and animation style was developed further in more recent Ghibli offerings like "Princess Kaguya", also directed by Takahata.

In "The Yamadas" there is a great use of empty white space as characters emerge from and melt into the minimally realised world, that is a refreshing change from the detail-rich and finely rendered environments of earlier Miyazaki films - it's Western equivalent would be

the U.S U.P.A studios when compared to Disney.

That delicate freedom is what makes this film a joy to watch and it has a lightness of touch and charm that is reminiscent of the domestic dramas of Yasuhiro Ozu, that I watched later on during lockdown.

*I watched Yasuhiro Ozu's "Good Morning" later in lockdown - it's a story of two boys who have farting contests, besides getting up to other mischief, and the film is one of Ozu's first made in colour.

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