Tokyo Godfathers - Reviews

VivisQueen's avatar
Apr 7, 2009


Satoshi 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.


The 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.


In 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.


The 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.


Most 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.

8.5/10 story
9/10 animation
7.5/10 sound
9/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
Inkmonkey's avatar
Dec 13, 2015

Despite the characters' jarring use of homophobic and transphobic language, this movie is a marvel of storytelling and expert direction. With powerfully engaging characters and a seamless narrative arc, it is in turns hilarious, heartwarming, thoughtprovoking and and introspective. A work of art, almost unexpectedly on point.

9/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
10/10 overall
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Shucurucu's avatar
Apr 26, 2011

Comica historia de 4 personajes unidos por el destino: un homosexual ex cantante, un vendedor de repuestos de bicicletas que dejo a su familia por una deuda, una adolecente que acuchillo al padre policia (no lo mato) y un bebe abandonado justo la noche de navidad.. es una historia muy buena y divertida, aconsejo mucho verla en las epocas navidenhas para retomar un poco de su espiritu que cada ves se pierde mas.


Muy buena!

8/10 story
8/10 animation
7/10 sound
8/10 characters
8.5/10 overall
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snivets's avatar
Dec 27, 2012

What seems like a simple movie about a trio of homeless people trying to return a baby to its mother is actually a very complex piece of work with layers of meaning.

Story: The story is characteristically Satoshi Kon, in that it hops, skips, and jumps through unrelated elements. I find that his style of storytelling adds the realism of chaos and points out the humor of coincidence in the unorganized nature of the plot. However, the random events also serve to unravel the facades that our characters have built up, and we come to discover their pasts, as well as see them wrestle with their ghosts in the face of ongoing events. This show is heavy on character development, but also utilizes action sequences to move the plot along.

If you know anything about Japan, you know that being homeless or even just jobless is a huge mark of shame and that Japanese society treats their homeless much much differently than even we do in the US. What's really great about the story and the tangents it takes is that it explores the day-to-day living of the Japanese homeless. In doing so, we get deeper and deeper into the meat of this societal issue, which serves to question the audience's assumptions about the honor and values of homeless people vis-a-vis "normal people." After all, who is worse, the homeless trio or the woman who stole the baby? I think they did a fabulous job raising tough questions like these.

Animation: As usual, there is little left to be desired in terms of art. The backgrounds are deliciously urban, and the color palatte really emphasizes the real nature of the movie's themes.

Sound: Spot on.

Characters: With excellent characterization and complexity, each character is explored and developed, as well as animated with his/her own quirks. The balance of characters is humorous, but their interactions also force them to explore their own emotions more fully. My favorite was definitely Hana-chan, with her spouting of poetry and love of books.

All in all, an excellent piece of work, and well worth the time of anyone who likes a movie with an uplifting ending.

9/10 story
10/10 animation
10/10 sound
10/10 characters
9.5/10 overall
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kohoto's avatar
Apr 23, 2011

this just may be my new favorite movie ever! ive never seen such an orgional plot. this movie is so warm, your heart melts every five minutes! the great thing about this movie is that its not one of those fantasy anime moves that only anime fans would really like. this movie is somthing anyone would really enjoy. the story is so silly, yet touching, you can't help but love it! Amazing, simply amazing. (btw, i really liked this movie!!!!!)

10/10 story
10/10 animation
9/10 sound
9/10 characters
10/10 overall
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