My Neighbors the Yamadas - DVD vs Blu-Ray
I don't know about the rest of you, but I absolutely love My Neighbors the Yamadas. The watercolor-and-pencil art style, the zen design that emphasizes emtpy space, the endlessly funny comic timing. The extravagant musical numbers, where the movie soars in three dimensions, bookend the movie perfectly and add much-needed variety. This is a brilliant, subtle, smart animated movie, and if nothing else, you have to respect Isao Takahata for having the moxie to make it.
I wonder how many Westerners know Yamada-kun is adapted from a newspaper comic strip? That's another key reason why I enjoy it so much. I've always been a fan of comics, especially Peanuts, Bloom County, The Far Side, and Calvin & Hobbes. And I've long believed Takahata handled that adaptation perfectly; this movie feels very much like reading through one of the many Calvin books, weaving together several major themes and mini-story arcs, several stylistic shifts, and a warm-hearted, generous tone.
Yamada-kun looked very good on DVD, and the Blu-Ray version improves in every way. The differences are far more subtle than, say, Howl's Moving Castle, but that's mostly because of the film's zen design. Once you see the screenshots in their larger native resolution, the advantages of BD become evident.
I love the painterly look of this movie. In order to achieve a purely watercolor style, Studio Ghibli converted their entire production to computers, at great expense. Earlier films were notoriously cautious about CG, and dabbled only here or there (On Your Mark, Mimi wo Sumaseba, Pom Poko, Princess Mononoke), but My Neighbors the Yamadas fully immersed itself in the modern technology.
It wouldn't be until Ponyo in 2008 that Ghibli began to dial back the computers, eventually scuttling the computer graphics department entirely. So this marks an interesting era for the studio - their full embrace of Modern Computer Technology. Still, even then, all their best work in CG lie in the short films, like Ghiblies Episode 2 and Yoshiyuki Momose's Capsule trilogy.
Yamada-kun infamously tanked at the Japanese box office, overtime and over budget, where it was mugged mercilessly by The Phantom Menace and the first Pokemon movie. It also led to Takahata's retreat from directing movies, and possibly a souring of his working relationship with Miyazaki. On that front, I'm largely speculating; it remains a great and unsolved mystery that I still wish to piece together. Caveat emptor, as always.
Anyway, not to ramble on too long, but My Neighbors the Yamadas is criminally underrated, even among Ghibli Freaks. I think it's a smashing film, wildly funny at times, touching and humane at others, always full of surprises. The two wedding sequences at the beginning and end are among Ghibli's greatest triumphs. Oh, and the music is wonderful and unforgettable - a Takahata trademark.
The Yamada-kun Blu-Ray, of course, looks terrific. Maybe I should send Disney a photo of my money, with a post-it note attached: It's Yours if You Want It. More screenshot comparisons below the fold: