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:


Michael said...

I wish there was something we could do as fans to let Disney know that one Blu-ray release a year is not going to cut it. I am willing to buy EVERY Ghibli release DAY ONE!

I have no idea what they are doing. With Arrietty out next month and the GKIDS retrospective breaking records, why wouldn't you release another Blu-ray?!

I only hope they don't sit on Arrietty for months after it leaves theaters, and that they also release a catalog alongside the Blu-ray release.

I Make Comments said...

Let me just say, that I too am a huge fan of this film. I love the visual style and sense of pacing. It is a tragedy that Star Wars Episode I and Pokemon 1 beat this at the box office. I suppose the film does have a narrower appeal than some of the other Ghibli films. People (unfairly) discriminate against it for being paced like a comic strip. That's different. Ewww. Who would want something different?

Ghibli said...

I fully agree that this is one of those "hidden gems" of Studio Ghibli on par with Omohide Poro Poro and Umi ga Kikoeru.
Watching Yamada-kun is like watching a reflection of your daily life in an entirely new light. Oh, and the TV remote duel sequence is priceless, as the married life analogy :)
I long ago gave up on waiting for local releases and just import everything, but it's a pity that such gems remain hidden for the broader audience.

Anonymous said...

Ah, glad to see so much love for this film. I'll be honest the first time I sat down to watch it, I could't make it and needed two sittings to get through it and even then I wasn't satisfied(it certanly didn't help that I was in the mits of finishing Nausicaa the graphic novel). But then one day after I had my wisdom teeth removed(oh god did that suck) I needed somthing to distract me from the pain and misery, so I gave Yamada's another shot and I loved it after that, now its one of my favorite Ghibli films to watch. I guess third times a charm.

Keitaro004 said...

Your "Send a photo of my money" joke was fantastic! "My Neighbours the Yamadas" is indeed a great gem by Studio Ghibli, in fact, it's my favorite movie of all time. I've waited for it to get cheaper for quite a long time now, but now that it's only 10£ (UK release), it'll absolutely be worth every penny. I can't even imagine how many quotes I've gotten from that movie, it's that good! Everything from the fathers' conversation about rice and cement to Noboru's sake-drinking confession. Be right back, I need to do some Yamada-shopping here!

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