Tokyo Godfathers (Cert 12)

1 Disc Blu-ray (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 92 minutes approx.

Satoshi Kon is recognised for his reality bending psychological thrillers like Perfect Blue and Paprika, yet the palpable empathy for his characters hints at Kon’s sensitive side. Perhaps fittingly, Kon’s most affecting work is a tale that eschews his usual psychological distortions to focus on the best and worst humanity in its purest form.

Christmas Eve in Tokyo and whilst everyone else is rushing about in a last minute panic to buy presents or head off to parties, the lives of three homeless people are about to be changed irrevocably. Middle-aged alcoholic Gin, trans woman Hana and teenage runaway Miyuki discover an abandoned baby in a rubbish tip. Giving her the name Kiyoko, the trio set about finding the baby’s parents, armed with little information and limited resources.

Through a series of misadventures, happenstance and sheer pluck, Gin, Hana and Miyuki traverse the whole of Tokyo in order to reunite Kiyoko with her parents, encountering a variety of people and finding help in the most unusual places. Yet, the greatest thing they do find is how important their friendship is when tested to its limits as it is on its fateful night.

Loosely based on the 1913 novel Three Godfathers by Peter B. Kyne, Tokyo Godfathers sees Kon at his most playful yet at his most savage in holding up a mirror to Japanese society. At its heart, it is a fairy tale of sorts, the Christmas setting allowing the religious Hana to perceive Kiyoko’s arrival into their lives as a gift from God, and indeed miracles are to occur just when the trio need them the most.

Beneath this whimsical facade however, Kon delivers a cynical dissertation on the plight of the homeless and the uncaring attitudes towards them by the general public. Sneered at, jeered at, and even violently beaten purely for having no fixed abode, things are bad enough for our rough sleeping protagonists without being made to feel like second class citizens, yet of everyone in the film they have the biggest and least selfish hearts.

In appearance and by virtue of their close-knit association, the trio form what looks to be a typically structured family unit of a mother, father, and daughter, despite the lack of a blood connection. The chemistry between them begets a familiarity that allows for a rapport of the same comfort a family would have, and in being homeless, they essentially rely on each other anyway.

This is just as well for baby Kiyoko as finding her parents proves hard at first with just the name “Sachiko”, some old photos and a card from a hostess club. Kiyoko’s apparent good luck charm aura works early on when they encounter a yakuza boss trapped under his car. As reward for freeing him, he invites the group to his daughter’s wedding, which proves fortuitous, as the club owner is his future son-in-law

Unfortunately, the yakuza boss has many enemies and an attempt on his life is made at the wedding, the fleeing culprit taking Miyuki and Kiyoko as a hostage. Remarkably, fate again temporarily turns in favour of protecting Kiyoko but as always, another hurdle to overcome is just around the corner. The ebb and flow of their plight is the leveller in what is often a far-fetched turned of events experienced across the next two days.

Meanwhile this makes the trio reflect upon their own lives and add some perspective to their self-inflicted poverty. Miyuki had a row with her policeman father which ended in near tragedy and wishes she were home but fears her father hates her; Hana was once a celebrated drag queen with a lover who passed away; and Gin claims he was fleeced out of his money by a conman and his wife and daughter have died, although this isn’t true as we learn.

All three are flawed characters but they are very real and very relatable, yet they shine brighter than many of the others come across. If it isn’t teenage thugs “cleaning up” the parks by battering Gin and another homeless old man, it is the selfishness and snobbery of the people who have comfortable lives that begrudge them their existence.

Kon is smart enough to use these situations and the strength of the personalities of the three leads to get his point across without resorting to didacticism, leaving us to feel ashamed without having the finger pointed in our directions first. In the case of Hana, we have a character ahead of his/her time in terms of visibility and even though Gin liberally throws the term “queer” in a derogatory manner at her (this was made in 2003), less of a big deal is made of her transgender status than you might think.

Visually this is another stunning work from Kon, his trademark realistic character designs vivid with authentic facial reactions that veer towards the comic when required, but never lose their humanity. The physical movements are incredibly life like and natural, whether it is walking, running or breast-feeding. The artwork is never less than gorgeous, the cell drawn look bringing depth to the backgrounds and glittering landscape that is Tokyo at night, enhancing the wonder of the festive atmosphere.

If you only know Kon’s darker, more complex works, the linear narrative here might seem like him aiming for a mainstream audience, which may be true, but nobody in anime dissects the twisted instincts of the human psyche like Kon does. In this instance, he is simply applying them to circumstances based in a recognisable everyday reality, and offsets this by making heroes out of the maligned outliers of society.

Proving even the most creatively devious minds have a softer side which can still bend to suit their inquisitive whims, Tokyo Godfathers might just be Kon’s greatest film of his tragically short career. Definitely his most poignant and accessible, its social conscience makes it a timelessly relevant opus of great import and great impact.

A film to be treasured.

 

Extras:

Japanese Language 2.0 Stereo LCPM

Japanese Language 5.1 DTS HD -MA

English Subtitles

 

Animax Making Of

The Process Of Animation

The Unexpected Tours

5.1 Channel Surround & Art Gallery

 

Rating – **** ½

Man In Black

13 thoughts on “Tokyo Godfathers

  1. Wonderful post, truly very well written!😊 This is a movie that I have been wanting to see for ages, but still haven’t gotten around to it. I’m going to finally see it this year, at christmas, having already reserved my copy.
    I love the storyline, and if there is one thing that I enjoy it’s flawed characters that rise up above themselves. Knowing my taste in anime I’m pretty much convinced that I will love this 😊

    Like

    1. Thanks!

      I hope you do enjoy it. It’s such a warm film with plenty of humour and pathos, yet it is rather dark in how it depicts the callous attitude towards homeless people, not to mention, the shock plot development in the final act! 😮

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This movie has been on my radar for a while, as I have liked some of Kon’s stuff. Perhaps I will check it out this Christmas.

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  3. A wonderful film for sure, especially for the Christmas season. I agree that this film is his most accessible, which I can’t believe people have a problem with. Not everything needs to be a complex work to explore complex topics in a human way.

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    1. Agreed. It is a more accessible film but it is still unmistakably a Satoshi Kon film so damn the naysayers and enjoy this masterwork! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice review. I am still amazed how Satoshi Kon could have turned such dark topics in this movie into some funny and heart-warming scenes, because who would deny that the film’s context is pretty horrendous: homelessness, starvation, crime, violence, discrimination and all kinds of deprivation. And yet, equipped with the line of coincidence, characters who do not give up and humour, here it is – an almost “happy” movie.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! 🙂

      I think it needed to be light in tone and end on a more uplifting note than we are used to from Kon purely because the subject is bleak and unforgiving. In fact, it is remarkable how many people with such devious minds do have a hidden softer side – could anyone imagine Stephen King writing Carrie and Stand By Me? 😛

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      1. Yes, who could have thought, but an author like that must also possess a great degree of empathy to have dark characters (or characters with some dark traits) as main characters. Come to think of it, Kon’s animation may have turned out to be so uplifting to the heart just because its characters find themselves in such harsh environment. We just sympathise with them so much and wish them well.

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  5. Well, if you forgive the pun, you know what they say about judging book by their covers… 😉

    I think we sympathise with the cast in this film because they act in such a selfless way in spite of their homeless predicament – anyone else would have left the baby with the police or a hospital and that would have been the end of it. Our protagonists had nothing but gave everything while those with everything gave nothing. It’s a simple tale of strength of character over material worth thus is naturally inspiring to us.

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