2015 is the 30th anniversary of the founding of Studio Ghibli and, according to Hayao Miyazaki, it may also be one of its final years as a studio. Because this is one of my favorite films studios and Miyazaki is one of my favorite artists, who’s made some of my favorite films, I’ve decided to go through the history of Studio Ghibli one film at a time.
If you’re looking for the discussions of the previous weeks:
- Laputa: Castle in the Sky
- Grave of the Fireflies
- My Neighbor Totoro
- Kiki’s Delivery Service
- Only Yesterday
- Porco Rosso
- Pom Poko
- Whisper of the Heart
- Princess Mononoke
This does, however, mean I won’t be discussing Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, which was made before the founding of the studio.
I’ll also only be discussing the Japanese audio version of the films, though that doesn’t mean the dubs are bad or not worth seeing. They’re just slightly different. I’ll also be discussing these with the assumption that they’ve been seen by you. So, yes, spoilers are below.
I’m going to be upfront here and just say it: I don’t like this film.
My Neighbor the Yamadas is definitely the worst Studio Ghibli film, in my opinion. Or at least the least enjoyable for me.
I’m sure there are people out there who truly love this film and want to see it recognised as a great film, but I mostly hated watching it.
Well, that’s not fair. I actually didn’t hate this, but I didn’t enjoy it.
When I began this journey through Studio Ghibli’s filmography I had seen almost all of the films they’ve produced. I think I had only missed four or five. Most of the ones I hadn’t seen were by Isao Takahata. I had only seen Grave of the Fireflies and Pom Poko, so I was pretty excited to see his other films, since most of them are highly regarded. I’ve now seen all of them but his most recent, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. I think Grave of the Fireflies is certainly his best film. I could be wrong, and despite My Neighbors the Yamadas, I’m still excited to see Princess Kaguya. I think Only Yesterday is fantastic. Pom Poko is kind of a mixed bag for me. But My Neighbors the Yamadas is difficult to get through. i sort of wanted to quit a few times.
I’m not sure that it was worth watching to the end.
I’m not sure it was worth watching at all.
It is, I think, the oddest of all the Studio Ghibli films. Not because the content is out of the ordinary, but because it fails so much.
I honestly hate the style.
I get it. I mean, I get that this is based on a comic strip and so this is probably stylistically cohesive. It fits the source. It’s also why the film is made of a bunch of vignettes.
It’s basically taking a comic strip and turning it into a film.
Not taking the characters and turning their story into a feature film or a single narrative, but literally taking a comic strip’s style and narrative approach and jokes and tossing them onscreen.
I don’t really have words for why that’s a bad idea, but it should be clear, yeah?
When moving things from one medium to another, things get lost or changed to fit the new medium. That’s why they’re called adaptations.
The source material must adapt and fit onto and into the new medium.
Takahata does something bolder, something stupider.
I don’t have a lot to say about this film. Mostly I found it hard to watch and ugly.
But there are some good things that may be worth your time, if you’re in the mood for something like this.
most only interesting thing about the film is how the characters interact with one another. Especially of interest is the intergenerational conflicts and interactions. The grandmother is a pretty great character and the parents are interesting enough. When you throw all these people together, you get humor and sometimes profound insight into what it is to be human. Vignettes are spiced with poetry by haiku masters like Bashō, which are probably meant to add weight or beauty to the action. And, I mean, it’s hard to be upset about Bashō in your ears.
The problem is that the great moments are few and far between. Also, you’ll know within a few minutes whether or not the humor works for you. I enjoyed it well enough. I like this kind of humor, generally. Silly things, you know. But if you watch the first vignette with a stoneface and no tickling at your funny bones, then this film is going to hurt to watch.
Actually, the first vignette holds the whole film in it. It’s worth giving it at least those ten minutes because you’ll know if you’re going to enjoy this or not.
If you find the words of wisdom meaningless, if the humor falls flat, if you feel nothing while watching that first vignette, just stop watching. Turn it off and do anything else with your time.
Because if it doesn’t work for you, this is going to be a pretty rough experience.
I kind of get why some people might love this film. If the humor hits right for you and the characters strike a chord, I can see why this would be great.
I’m thinking of how Malick uses little moments to build a narrative, how Wong Kar Wai uses vignettes to build a city, and on and on.
The thing here is that most of the vignettes didn’t work for me and I didn’t feel any kind of movement or building.
It just kind of felt like these are things that happened and that’s enough to make us care.
If I was familiar with the comic strip, maybe this would matter more to me.
But I’m not. More than that, I don’t really like comic strips in general.
Honestly, I think the strangest thing about this whole film is that it got made at all. If Takahata weren’t a founder of the studio and if his success didn’t pave the way for the studio to exist, I doubt this would exist at all. It’s hard to shut down your mentor, your partner. But this is really nothing like Takahata’s other work. It lacks the subtlety, the intense perfection he’s capable of. There are none of those quiet moments that breathe life into characters, where we just watch them behave as humans and grow to love them.
No, everything here is just off.
I don’t have much else to add.
If you’re a big Takahata fan, definitely check it out. If you see the style and like what you see, then you need to see this.
If you’re looking for something similar to Takahata’s other films or something that reminds you of other Ghibli films, look elsewhere.
This won’t be for you.
Next week, we’re onto another of my favorites: Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki.