Genre: Animation, Drama, Comedy
Cast: Tōru Emori, Yoshiaki Umegaki, Aya Okamoto
Synopsis: On Christmas Eve, three homeless people in Tokyo find an abandoned baby. They decide to track down the baby’s mother and, in the process of doing so, face their past and the reasons they became homeless in the first place.
So far I have reviewed two other Satoshi Kon movies for this blog and both offered something completely different. Paprika was a trippy sci-fi mind fuck about dream invasion whereas Millennium Actress was a heartbreaking and emotional drama about the life of a fictional Japanese actress. Tokyo Godfathers is perhaps more similar to Millennium Actress than some of Kon’s other work because it has a softer storyline. What Tokyo Godfathers has which Kon’s other works lack, however, is a comedic edge. If anything, Tokyo Godfathers cements Kon’s reputation as a master of genres; he was someone who could bring psychological thrillers to life just as easily as he could sci-fi or emotional epics.
It’s not just the comedy aspect that sets the film apart though. The movie is interesting because, at times, it has a distinctly un-Japanese feel. I don’t mean that it is un-Japanese because of its notable lack of tentacles and all-around WTF-ness. I meant it is un-Japanese because it feels more…French. The animation, the music and the moody lighting all give the movie a Parisian atmosphere. Even the Tokyo Tower calls up image of the Eiffel Tower in the mind. The movie also has a slightly more Western-feel as Christianity also plays a large role in this movie. I was watching this film with my brother who was down in London visiting and he explained to me that in Japan Christianity is a novelty. As a religion, it never really took off. This came as a surprise to me because this movie focuses a lot on the theme of miracles and divine intervention but it does so skillfully without coming off as preachy. Think of the movie as a modern-day nativity set in Japan without all the rigid religious formalism. Because of this, Tokyo Godfathers is very accessible to Western audiences and it’s something anime fans and non-anime fans can both watch and enjoy.
In addition to the movie’s accessibility, viewers will also appreciate the character depth and “realness.” The struggles of the homeless in Japan are shown with stark clarity and as the three main characters attempt to locate the abandoned baby’s mother and battle their own inner demons, we not only sympathize with them but we also identify with them. One is a middle-aged alcoholic who couldn’t handle his gambling debts and had to abandon his family, another is a transwoman whose lover died expectantly, and the last one is a teenage runaway who stabbed her dad after she thought he killed her cat (OK that last one is kind of strange in a Japanese way). Each character brings their own quirks and insecurities to the film’s character dynamic and their interaction with each other is honest and often humourous. It feels like watching real people in real life and that makes the film extra special.
All in all, you can’t go wrong with this movie. If you are a cinema-buff who likes up-lifting stories full of fuzzies and feels then this is a solid choice. This is also a great introduction for people who are not up to speed with anime and its potential as a cinematic medium. While Japan is certainly the capital of WTF (something that I hope is in full display at the 2020 Olympic opening ceremony) it’s nice to see a side of it that’s more real and personal. Tokyo Godfathers captures that side beautifully.
- The urban sprawl of Tokyo is beautifully rendered.
- The blinding white light which pierces gloomy surroundings to denote divinity is stunning without being hammy. This coupled with Japanese poetry makes for authentic spiritual moments.
- The Japanese language and style of conversation is just really enjoyable to listen to.
- Loveable characters. I especially applaud the characterization of Hana, the transsexual. She’s funny, smart and endearing which is quite progressive.
- It gets quite sad at some points.
Tokyo Godfathers is, simply put, a very nice film which will warm the cockles of your heart. It couples beautiful animation with an engrossing and inspirational story. As such, it’s a great film for all kinds of strains so everybody can enjoy it. My advice would be to watch this at Christmas with loved ones. Because it’s so accessible and “Western” in feel, even non-anime fans will enjoy the movie and will no doubt be touched by its message of hope, love and family.