Tokyo Godfathers

Movie (1 ep x 92 min)
4.395 out of 5 from 10,330 votes
Rank #273

On a chilly December evening, Hana, a transvestite, Misaki, a teenage runaway, and Gin, a retired bike racer, found little Kiyoko in the trash. For three homeless people, finding an abandoned baby might not have been the best of luck, but with good intentions and two cents to chip in, the trio set out to find the parents of the child. But locating the mother will not be an easy task, and all they have to go on is a small key...

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StorySatoshi Kon wants everyone to perform a double-take. I am convinced this is his primary aim. His trademark spacey, frenetic style more than suggests a misspent youth of paranoid comedowns and an adulthood geared towards making the rest of the world experience the same. Whatever the truth, he’s clearly a master craftsman who knows how to weave highly original tales brimming with sophisticated weirdness. Unfortunately, amidst all that striving for conceptual elegance, the characters often get lost. Watching Millennium Actress, for example, I thought Chiyoko’s historical relevance abstractedly fascinating but never quite cared about Chiyoko herself, and in Perfect Blue, Mima’s psychosis was more gripping to follow than she as a person. Not so with Tokyo Godfathers. Here, Kon distils everything that’s essentially refreshing about his style and then injects it into a heart-warming, character-driven Christmas movie that will leave viewers thrilled and enthralled. At face value, Tokyo Godfathers sounds frighteningly similar to hackneyed Hollywood productions like 80s hit Three Men and a Baby. The idea of a cynic, a brat, and a homosexual dreamer adventuring through Tokyo’s underbelly, unravelling their personal neuroses, all the while trying to do the right thing by an abandoned tot seems potentially rife with corniness. In fact, with the numerous coincidences and quirky twists required to give the plot any coherence, there’s a real danger of it also sliding into farce. Luckily, the direction is masterful. Satoshi Kon oozes humour in the same way a supernova can be said to ooze light. Moreover, he turns out to have a dazzling knack for teasing out originality in his characters as much as he does his narratives. Armed thus, Tokyo Godfathers performs with aplomb, delivering a gripping quest involving gangsters, transvestites, thugs, and Latin American immigrants that brims at every turn with surprises. The pace, needless to say, is giddy and off-beat, but always fresh, as if Kon were making half of it up as he went. At the same time, all the elements come together smoothly, not least because of the thematic glue permeating the work – a poignant theme of lost families – which is at once universal and yet rarely explored in anime. The result is that Tokyo Godfathers plays out with the uplifting familiarity of a nativity scene whilst delivering an innovative, contemporary style and startling themes.AnimationThe budget here is generous and tastefully applied. Although Tokyo Godfathers offers fairly ugly but simple character designs that stand firmly in the realm of realism, practically everything else is an exercise in art. The three homeless guys are more caricatured than might be found in Kon’s other movies, but the detail in movement and particularly facial expressions are astounding. Crafted with commendable attention to their individuality (even the way Miyuki sniffs becomes a fascinatingly ugly detail), the characters move, speak, and express with theatrical preciseness. In regards to the environment, the setting is a buzzing Tokyo with rich layers and textures, a condensed microcosm of all the things that make a cosmopolitan city. Often, the scenery feels like the next best thing to a photograph, all the while exuding a larger-than-life ambience tailored to the big screen.SoundIn contrast, the soundtrack is unobtrusive; little of the jazzy riffs stand out as particularly striking, however, it remains robustly vibrant enough to support the light-hearted and dramatic tones of the narrative.CharactersThe cast as a whole is brilliantly human; they’re always funny in their tragedy and touching in their peculiarity. The main cast comprises three homeless individuals trying to find a child’s mother, but in the process rediscovering their own self-worth and the worth of the families they left behind. Simple enough on paper, but their development is challenging, witty, and scripted with remarkable creativity. While the cross-dressing Hana easily steals the show with his flamboyance (his rendition of ‘Climb Every Mountain’ warbled in camp Engrish is priceless!), the most involving background actually belongs to Gin, who struggles with the guilt of having abandoned his wife and baby daughter. The individuals they meet along the way, though colourful and continually intriguing, do not attain the same level of depth. They mainly exist as fortuitous helpers or fleeting antagonists, and serve the plot rather than help drive it.OverallMost of the time, Kon’s works remind me of a surrealist painting that’s very entertaining, but remains teasingly just out of the range of full comprehension (‘Alright, Kon, I’ll give you a nine out of ten, but just explain that melting face to me again…?’). Maybe Kon had a mental lapse – heck, maybe he ran out of drugs that week – but in being his only sentimental work to date, Tokyo Godfathers also proves to be his best. A must for anime lovers and a don’t-live-without-it for fans of Satoshi Kon.


The following is posed to be a subjective review without any intent of inputting constructive insight. Despite my lack of intent, I’ll try my best to thoroughly examine the film as constructively as possible. Expect an update to this review after I visit more Satoshi Kon titles. At the time of this writing, I’ve only watched Perfect Blue & Millennium Actress. I wouldn’t count my experience with Paprika since I viewed that film once and that too when I was very young. A revisit of that film shall be in place soon as well.     Before you proceed any further, I’d like for you to heed my precautionary advices:  Before mentioning anything else, know that this won’t be a spoiler free review so please watch the film before you proceed any further.  If you’re familiar with any of my previous review(s), I’m not a big fan of summarising or giving any sort of synopsis - rather I’m not as good at it as I’d like to be. Whatever events or plot lines I bring up are solely for discussion and nits and bits of analysis.  This review is solely my own perspective and shouldn’t necessarily influence or indoctrinate someone else’s point of view. If it somehow inspires or encourages, I’m not liable for it.  Any criticism pertaining to the staff of this film isn’t equivalent to calculating their intelligence or talent. We all have different tastes and yes, some executions or works can be carried out in more conventional, innovative, or coherent ways.  If my review somehow matches with someone else’s, know that it’s just a coincidence and has nothing to do with me. They just happen to have a similar viewpoint, that’s all. Don’t let my rating deceive you in any way. The rating doesn’t matter as much as my review does. My rating system is a bit different compared to most people I know, so I admit that it’s not the best.  You’re free to respond to this or any of my reviews via this link. My only request for you would be to remain cordial. I’ll repetitively refer to Satoshi Kon as a ‘madman’: this isn’t to insult him but rather glorify him. I’m using it as a compliment for his direction’s philosophy.  With all those warnings put up, it’s time to delve into the review. Have fun and thank you for reading !   Introduction:   It would dishonest of me to say that I wasn’t expecting anything from the film. Given how infamous Satoshi Kon’s mind was, I was in for quite the kicker. The film plays around with lots of significant worldly themes displayed in a worldly manner that can only be understood in a setting that it participates in. You can’t call it ‘unique’ given that it is somewhat of a grab from the streets but also in that same regard, what it displays isn’t whether there is something unique about this specific heap from the streets. What we are met with are simply people, who due to certain and unavoidable circumstances, ended up in a point of time that rendered them to be situated below the poverty line. The audience is aware of the harsh reality and cruel lifestyle that these characters have to abide by. In fact, maybe the reason why the audience should feel for these characters isn’t for what they go through but what they strive to live by. Of course, we can associate such a tone or motif with given mediums within the same genre or style of filmography, or perhaps even literature. Now, Satoshi Kon being the madman he was certainly has a ‘kink’ for subduing the audience with very disturbing and at times, awkwardly placed elements within his films: so it was a surprise when this film didn’t place as much groceries on the table. I wouldn’t call it a con but rather a drift from his usual style of film direction. Tokyo Godfathers is a depiction of struggle marinated with the push for realisation: the embodiment of pragmatist situations (not the philosophical kind - more so synonymous to everyday or lay-person type) in this film weigh up the fortune and opportunities against its counterparts via symbolic grandeur that it achieves via importing Christianity’s most glamorous product into the scene; Christmas and one that utilises the very core of that festive symbolism to the very end.    Plot: Premise & Storyline:   The premise of this film is very simple: we follow three homeless individuals who have been in a deserted state for various lengths of time. One of them for a while, the other two for quite some time. They’ve arrived at their current state due to issues that impede their lives from going past their respective obstacles. The one with the shortest time is a youngster, a teen, a runaway while the other two have more unfortunate experiences with where they’ve ended up. The film assesses this and doesn’t delay much to relay that fact. How they go about their lives comes to change on Christmas Eve, the major plot device is introduced into the film quite early. A newborn infant is found abandoned in their search for scavenging food and daily needs via trash: the most bountiful way any homeless person can hope for - I don’t mean this in a derogatory manner but trying to assert a realistic scenario. The infant protrudes the film by submerging in the miracle symbolism that the characters hope to come by as one of the protagonists, Hana expresses their delight in receiving a ‘miracle from God’.    Given how the plot is set around Christmas, it’s almost fair to assume that it projects the three protagonists equivalent to that of the Three Wise Men a.k.a. Biblical Magi. Now I will admit that I’m fairly poor at explaining symbolic allusions to mythological or biblical figures but I’ll try my best to assert the one that this film presents - I’ll discuss this specific part of the film in a different section. The film doesn’t bear itself much weight in fervently exploring the characters individually but overweighs that hole by subjecting their experiences with the livelihood of the infant.   At first, the film situates them in a dilemma on whether they want to keep this ‘miracle’ for themselves or whether they want to return it to its parents. Initially, it supposes that they’re to be heading towards a journey but eventually they make up their mind on returning the baby to its parents. The way this conclusion comes to be is via another plot device that seems to be an entertainment factor in the premise but feels off after its job is pretty done. I say this but there is a counterintuitive execution to this feeling and here’s why: when initially planning to see this film, I thought the setting would be that of a yakuza film. I sure felt something missing when I did start watching through this segment though: you could say this was a way to deceive the viewer in a way unless they were somehow familiar with the reference or inspiration for this film.    Despite my misconception which the film knocks finely, I still thought removing their relevance from the picture felt a bit forced considering how they almost had a leeway into it. The yakuza boss’s relevance was definitely warranted given that the characters receive vital information for the delivering the plot device to its conclusion - I wouldn’t predicate that it feels all that contrived, just a bit out of place.The relevance of the Latino couple doesn’t do much of a better job here either, their presumptuous facet in the film only makes up for Miyuki’s backstory exposition. I don’t mind the way it was depicted, just that something like this didn’t feel ‘necessary’ enough to come by for her to open up.    Hana and Gin’s characters get lightly explored after this point in time, with Hana getting more exposure at first since she arrives at a refuge point in the plot. Hana ends up becoming a minor plot device for Gin to finally get exposed for his lies so far. It’s revealed that Gin did put up a facade for the entirety of the show, for reasons that I’m still a bit confused on- won’t count against the film here. At what seems to be an endpoint for plot, a deceptive execution seeds way for a more nuanced look into our major plot device, being the infant. The last portion of the film expresses a very seething theme to the viewers as it wraps up the conclusion in the fog of another couple’s disturbances, while letting the main cast meet their resolution as well. The Godfathers, taking care of not one but two children - yes, it’s explicitly mentioned that they’re asked to be Kiyoko’s Godfather but in essence, they act as a parent figure for Miyuki for the entire film as well.   I’m hoping that the paragraphs above don’t seem like solely summaries but serve as some ground for how I looked at the film from a constructive standpoint. While it proves to be intriguing, there are some plot points which make the film seem very hard to digest at times. The sudden appearance of Sachiki, while relevant, feels quite unnatural and so does Gin’s encounter with Yasuo. On top of that, very little is touched upon the aftermath of the wedding’s scenario. While that event served a major part of the film’s storyline, it goes completely missing after Miyuki and Kiyoko get kidnapped. I’m aware of Mitsuo’s mention of recovery at the end of the film but, what’s on my mind is the state of the yakuza boss - unless it somehow went through my head. While they weren’t the ‘greatest’ plot device in the film, they did provide the characters a major path towards fulfilling their task. Do they necessarily have to be mentioned later on ? No but, it’d seem a bit realistic to do so. Speaking of realism, the film does have one major moment where realism kind of leaves the scene and that would be when Hana falls with Kiyoko: plot convenience wind just blows in to save the day: though I realise that it was the ‘ideal’ ( i.e. extremely hazardous winter) Christmas weather. If that was the case, then where the heck was its presence in previous events ? ( Maybe I’m just nitpicking here but I feel that there’s a strong need to establish such a feature, even if realistic).   Regardless, I’m not dissatisfied with how they built up the tension in how the baby’s separation went by and how it was reunited. The atmosphere of the film is also akin to typical Satoshi Kon films but with a different vibe that performs in a less ‘absurd’ or ‘drenched’ manner, i.e. an everyday setting with ups and downs society faces even in something as glorifying as Christmas.    Characterisation:    The characters are diverse in their personalities and in some ways, relatable. I wouldn’t say that the film asks you to relate with its characters but rather have you examine their credibility as humans to do the ideal and moral thing in any situation. This follows closely up to the symbolic interpretation of the film as well as its realistic theme. While it’d be appropriate to dub them the ‘Biblical Magi’ of Tokyo, such an entailment would be a bit too ambitious to entail. The title of this film engraves the ‘Godfather’ role to Hana and Gin; I don’t want to deal with the semantics of this part of the film nor do I want to touch upon the identity as much but yes, there maybe could have been some fixes. Miyuki acts more like an older sibling to Kiyoko, so her role in this isn’t as relevant and as I’ve stated in my previous section, Miyuki is also another child that both Hana and Gin take care of, thus making them the godparents of both those two - extensive but seems the most coherent approach.    Hana’s character is pretty unique: her presence as a trans woman isn’t quite focused but it’s not completely untouched either. She had a normal life just like any individual in the cast but was left hanging and incapacitated after losing valuables. She goes through little periods of development, given that she’s an adult. Her role as a parent and a wise ‘man’ - in reference to the symbolism ( not intentionally misgendering her) proves to be the most significant out of the two. She does get the short hand of the stick at times for her identity, yes but I think the director does a fine job of asking us to look at her for what she is as a human, as someone who had a life just like anyone else in society. For the most part, she carries the whole cast on her shoulders and leads it to the very end. Overall, her performance as a character proves to be impeccable.    Gin’s character is disturbing at times and at other times, fruitful to the plot’s progression. His intentions keep being misassessed in the scene and sometimes even covered rapidly. We don’t get to learn the length of his struggles or downfall till we reach the scene at the hospital with his daughter. At one major plot point we almost get to see the full picture of his character but that is soon taken over by a plot device. Regardless, his growth is a bit unsteady and his encounter with the old homeless man as well as Yasuo serves a major twist to it. While he’s not the best of both worlds, he is still a very realistic depiction of the unheard struggles a man drowning in despair goes through.    Miyuki’s character is different considering she is more or less a ‘child’. Her situation is way more different than the other ones. After stabbing her father, she ran away in the hopes of avoiding ‘arrest’ as she puts it. She hasn’t really been ‘homeless’ like the others but her situation isn’t really as ‘good’ either. Her tendencies depict struggles that any teen or adolescent may go through; it doesn’t even have to be as crude as her situation for us to realise such a character. She puts up a fair bit of exposition but is safe to say, underperformed in the film. Her hands don’t often feel heavy to the touch, given most of its weighs on the other two.    Sachiki and Yasuo are depictions of unrest that follow suit in regular conundrums between couples. Their livelihood is shown to be embodied by discourse at the point where their characters intertwine with the rest. Although much of their sentiments remain shallow or postulative, their pertinence serves the plot its associated narrative. I wish a bit more of their presence was explored through or at least touched upon, seeming that they were heavily involved in the placement of Kiyoko - infant.    Theme & Symbolism:   As mentioned in previous sections, this film has a heavy emphasis on Christian symbolism. Such is made apparent at the very start of the film but, I solely wish to narrow my focus to one specific symbolism, that being Jesus and the Biblical Magi.    I don’t want to make any far-fetched connections but these are the relations that popped in my mind. In regards to the gifts that the Wises Men bestow upon Baby Jesus, there are typically mentions of three gifts: gold, myrrh, and frankincense. The symbolism differs from account to account but for now, I’ll just stick to one. In general, those gifts are often symbolized to contain the following meaning: gold as in virtue, myrrh as in suffering/mortality, and frankincense as in prayer.    It’s definitely delicate to assign the symbolism to each of our characters here but I’d definitely agree that Hana’s character represents prayer i.e. frankincense since she’s the only person who looks upon the abandoned newborn as a ‘miracle’ or ‘pure child’. The reason as to why I say it’s delicate is because Gin is a smoker, so assigning him frankincense could have made sense as well but it would be symbolically inappropriate. This assignment will be more conjectural since it’s hard to distinguish virtue and mortality between Gin and Miyuki.    While Gin does show us his fair bit of past to justify his symbolism of virtue, he also comes to terms with accepting life’s most complex situations and calling it a day. On the other hand, Miyuki’s reason for being on the streets is one directly related to mortality since her previous deeds almost renders someone clinging on to this mortal plane. However her journey in the film is to come to terms with her misdemeanor but I can fairly conclude that Gin is very well off in being placed with gold since he was in debt - not to mention that he also receives winning lottery tickets from that old homeless man, and Miyuki with myrrh.    As for the infant, there needs not much explanation since her symbolism as the ‘pure child’ is a loud allusion to the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve. Throughout the film, these Biblical Magi journey forth to bring the gifts they represent and manifest within the baby, since its life is a summation of all those symbols at the very end. The myrrh might as well be associated with the couple who set up the plot in the first place.    The very symbolism this film endows expresses the theme of humanism, purity, and bounty. The film often has a heavy emphasis on these themes over and over. The plot pretty much is a 2nd chance or redemption for the cast to prove their humanity to the audience as much; however, I don’t go without saying that they’re at fault for ending up on the streets. The service of being human is one that comes around in essence and with this film we see nothing different come from these deeds. Apart from the baby, everyone else in the film is sentient and from a Juedo-Christian perspective ‘sinful’ creatures.    The atmosphere goes hand in hand with the film in trying to convey that life’s contents won’t always be in the most ideal situation but, it’s best to make the most out of it despite past events. The film’s take on making humanistic realism adamant drives through and makes a very fitting point for the audience. Such is the rich and profound message that our madman, Satoshi Kon conveys to his audience.  Sound:    There is very little to discuss in this section, given that I lack the ability to assess sound and artwork properly. The sounds of this film are attuned to feel natural in order to benefit its realistic setting. Sometimes, it may feel out of hand every scene here and there but they’re not enough to disturb the viewership experience by any means.    The choice of soundtrack for a film went just as much as I expected it to. The opening serves quite a worthy introduction of telling us that the setting is Christmas, thus atmospherically pumping the viewer up for what’s about to come.    At most dramatic moments, themes like ‘Ode to Joy’ are railed to feel that classic bit of hype that any viewer wishes to hear and to keep things quite familiar.    Overall, I can’t say there’s much to critique here since the rest of the soundtracks just as much suit if not more.    Animation & Art Style:   Despite being nearly 18 years old, the art style still feels impressive. The dating certainly has worn down a bit of the style that goes into it but since it leaves the classic impression of a Satoshi Kon film, aging becomes barely a matter in our hands. The art style is very simple and the animation tests through very well. It stands very well to today’s standards but of course, some tweaks and necessary adjustments will need to impale in order to age well. It’s necessary to note that I didn’t watch the remastered version of this film, rather the original one. I’m not sure if my opinion will bear as much weight here as it will for the remastered version. That’s pretty much my boggled down 2 cents on the animation and art style.    Conclusion:   Tokyo Godfather is quite an ambitious undertaking on professing what needs to be done as humans but is also a take on the struggles that weigh on as one too. The film’s realism counters this very ideal to the core and makes well and exemplary symbolism and thematics disparities between it. It’s a film that could have handled its plot points a bit more efficiently rather than allowing it to drown in some unnecessary demeanors but regardless, it’s a classic that will heap realism and humanism from the dining room and throw it at you to give you a bittersweet reality check.

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