The first film in my first match-up in the first round of the 90s Far East Bracket!
Written By: Isao Takahata
Directed By: Isao Takahata
The first thing that catches your eye about Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun is the peculiar animation style. Because the film is drawn from a comic strip Isao Takahata decided he wanted the look to be different from standard anime or animation and so he employed a digital water coloring technique that looks quite abstract and far from any other animated film. The comic strip style look and feel does take some getting used to and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it isn’t embraced by all. I didn’t have any problem with the style and felt that it added to the comedic tone that Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun was going for, because even in its comedy it was very much a Saturday morning serial.
The comedy in Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun is all over the place, but in a good way. It is at times broad, specific, dry and robust. It takes on family life in a funny way, but also takes on learning, loving, old age and many other traditional ideas. I found myself laughing out loud many times, most loudly in the scenes between father and son or grandma and anyone. Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun does get the family dynamic down pat, and bookends this fact with two very poignant speeches about what makes life work. It is that devotion to both skewering and honoring the small moments that keeps Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun so true to life, even though it does have its share of surrealist moments.
Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun has a few dramatic moments, but it isn’t as spot on with its drama as with its comedy. Whereas I didn’t feel a single joke fell flat, a few of the dramatic moments did. While the meeting between Shige and her hospitalized friend is touching, emotional and funny, the same is not true for Takashi’s extended hero rider sequence. It’s not all that funny, and goes for too long, and in that end it doesn’t have the middle aged man yearning to matter again impact that it was striving for. But, Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun doesn’t dwell on any dramatic moments, outside of the hero rider, and instead moves from scene to scene in true comic strip fashion, making sure the jokes keep flowing and the laughter is always present.
It’s hard to imagine that Isao Takahata is the same man that was responsible for the emotionally devastating Hotaru No Haka. But, he was and the fact that he can have two completely divergent films under his name that are both great in their own way is a credit to his ability as a filmmaker. Hôhokekyo Tonari No Yamada-kun is an endearing, charming, funny and heartfelt tale that features a very unique animation style. It is a feel good story, but more than anything it is a slice of life and a reminder of why the little moments are what make life so great.