Hôhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun (1999)
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Lovely and unlike any other Studio Ghibli film.
I absolutely loved My Neighbors the Yamadas, Studio Ghibli's first fully digital film that nonetheless looks like quick, watercolored sketches on velum. I would say nothing the studio has made is anything like it, except that its director Isao Takahata evidently used the same techniques for the equally beautiful (if less cartoony) Princess Kaguya. Based on a comic strip, Yamadas leans hard into its source medium to present less a story than a portrait of the title family, with more short vignettes (situation to punchline might even be only a few seconds) than short stories (like the early bit where they lose a child at the shopping mall), sometimes punctuated by pithy haikus. Observational humor falls into a certain mundane realism, but the style allows for incredible flights of fancy and images you won't have seen before. The opener where the family is explained through child logic is absolutely beautiful. At the end of the hundred minutes, I felt like I knew each of the family's five members, and that I was, not their neighbor, but one of their own.
I liked the movie. Certainly there are many Japanese cultural references which I didn't get, but the movie was consistently interesting nonetheless. Also, I thought the ending was particularly touching as the final song and imagery summed up the movie perfectly. Another Studio Ghibli classic!
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